BOULDER – ThunderRidge’s run through the Class 5A state girls basketball tournament was one to remember.
The Grizzlies took down three of the four No. 1 seeds in the field, capped by a dominating defensive performance Saturday afternoon in the championship game. ThunderRidge shut down a potent Highlands Ranch offense en route to a 47-32 victory at Coors Events Center.
It was the Grizzlies’ first state championship since winning three in a row from 2003-05 and avenged a loss in the 2015 title game. Along the way ThunderRidge (25-3) eliminated Lakewood, previously undefeated Grandview and a Highlands Ranch team that had not lost an in-state game this season.
“We just took it one game at a time,” Grizzlies senior Jaz’myne Snipes said. “You can’t think ahead and you can’t think about what you did in the past, because the past no longer matters.”
The Falcons (26-2) had averaged 74 points through their first four playoff games but couldn’t get their shots to fall Saturday. Highlands Ranch shot just 33 percent on the day and turned the ball over 23 times against its Continental League rival.
“Our defense won it for us, definitely,” Grizzlies senior Taylor Rusk said. “We worked really hard on that, and defense wins championships.”
Snipes and Alyssia Martinez combined to score 33 points for ThunderRidge. Martinez had 17 points and Snipes scored 16 to go along with four steals.
Leilah Vigil led the Falcons with 13 points and nine rebounds, but as a team Highlands Ranch lost the rebound battle 30-23.
“They out-rebounded us, and that’s always our goal, to out-rebound the other team,” Falcons coach Caryn Jarocki said. “That didn’t happen today, and when we don’t out-rebound the other team, we struggle on the offensive end.”
After a low-scoring first half ThunderRidge owned a 16-12 lead, but a 10-2 run to open the third quarter put Highlands Ranch into a hole from which it couldn’t recover. Martinez scored six of her 17 points during that stretch, and the Falcons didn’t get on the board until Vigil scored with three minutes, 40 seconds remaining.
“We were up 25-12 on them at our place, and then, before you knew it, we lost by nine points,” Grizzlies coach Matt Asik said of the teams’ regular-season meeting. “That third quarter was huge absolutely. To extend the lead, it calmed us down.”
The lead grew to 13 points headed into the fourth quarter, and ThunderRidge padded it to as many as 19 points.
“Last time we played them we felt like we played not to lose,” Rusk said. “We just kept attacking. They told us ‘don’t let up’ and it paid off.”
ThunderRidge had some added inspiration in the words of former Grizzlies standout Abby Waner, who spoke with the team before the playoffs began and told them their goal hadn’t been denied – it was just delayed.
Those words were written on a board in the team’s locker room before each game.
“Everything she said it was just like, ‘Wow.’ We really needed that talk,” said Snipes, one of eight seniors on the roster. “The ‘Delayed, not denied,’ that really stuck with us. It was like yeah, we lost last year, but so what? We’ll get it this year.”
Highlands Ranch was playing in its first title game since 2013. The Falcons will graduate only three seniors, and leading scorers Vigil and Tommi Olson were sophomores.
“This group was great. They’ve done everything I asked them to do,” Jarocki said. “They’ve been really focused and really fun. They couldn’t be a better group to coach.”