BOULDER — Pueblo West took the wind out of Valor Christian’s sails early in the Class 4A boys basketball state championship game at the Coors Events Center.
A 19-6 lead after the first quarter ballooned into 32-16 at the half and 54-38 after the third. The Cyclones, a No. 1 seed, led 41-21 at one point in the second half and sealed their first-ever state championship in boys basketball by defeating another No. 1 seed, the Eagles, by a score of 70-51.
Of course, Valor Christian (25-3) had been in a similar position just 24 hours before. After going down 40-28 after three quarters of the state semifinals against Longmont, the Eagles unleashed their endless stream of high-flying, high-scoring wings for 30 points in the final frame to take out the Trojans 58-53.
That dramatic flip of the script got Valor into their second-ever state championship game, but just like in 2013 against Lewis-Palmer, the Eagles would have to settle for a runner-up finish.
More than anything, Pueblo West (25-3) made shots that Valor did not. The Cyclones finished a remarkable 60.5 percent from the field, while Valor only shot 38.8 percent.
The relentlessness of 6-foot-5 senior swingman Kenneth Tack (15 points) and Braden Shirley (11), along with the Cyclones’ closer in the tournament, junior guard David Simental (27), carried the South Central League champions to a fourth state championship in school history. They also won 4A football in 2007 and have claimed two softball crowns.
Nine years ago, back when Roberto Tyler took over the Pueblo West program, the Cyclones had a number in mind, one that would set the tone for the program into 2016 West figured out the distance from their high school to the Coors Events Center: 147 miles.
“When I came here nine years ago, I think I was the third candidate to get chosen for the job,” Tyler said. “They offered it to several people, but I was lucky enough to slide in. We came up with that moniker. We went on Google and found out what it was from the back door of Coors Events Center to the back door of Pueblo West High School.
“We’ve had that since Year 1. All we ever talk about is how we get to Boulder. We got here in 2011, but lost in the Final 4. This year, it was about getting to and winning the championship.”
Even though the game’s tempo and feel was mostly controlled by Pueblo West, Valor did make mini-bursts throughout, especially when junior wing Jalen Sanders (19 points) went on scoring barrages.
But, with the 4A crown on the line, the Cyclones put their trust in Simental, who went 9-10 from the line in the finals. He also buried a combined 27-29 from the charity stripe in two other playoff games.
“David is extremely special,” Tyler said. “He’s going to play college basketball for someone somewhere. This was probably the 12th game where we kind of just put the ball in his hands and had him knock down free throws, and he did.”
Simental, who had a 41-point game against Pueblo Centennial this season, had 27 points in the semifinals and 27 points in the finals. He averaged 24.3 points this season, and his offense was a constant for the Cyclones.
“I played well, but my team played great,” Simental said. “That’s what really matters. It’s the first one we’ve ever won. We worked really hard for it and deserved it.”
Pueblo West also took out Vista Ridge 65-54 in the semifinals, Denver South 79-67 in the quarterfinals, Durango 52-41 in the Sweet 16, and Mesa Ridge 84-73 in the tournament opener. Pueblo West joined Pueblo East (2014 over Denver South) in becoming the second Pueblo team to win 4A in the past three years.
As for Valor Christian, the Eagles had a memorable run to the title game and could use their newfound experience to push them back to Boulder in 2017. After all, the team’s top six scorers are non-seniors.