ARVADA — Twenty games and counting.
That’s the current winning streak for Ralston Valley’s girls basketball program. It’s the longest winning streak in 5A and the most prolonged string of victories for longtime coach Jeff Gomer, who has pushed his coaching career win total to 344.
The Mustangs’ latest win came Saturday night in a non-league test against Cherry Creek (15-6, 11-1 in 5A/4A Centennial). Ralston Valley trailed 9-2 early, but went on runs of 10-0 and 13-0 in the first half to open up a 20-point lead at one point.
Ralston Valley held off a second-half charge by Cherry Creek to grab a 70-60 victory.
“They play with confidence,” Gomer said of his Mustangs which are No. 3 in the current CHSAANow.com 5A girls hoops poll. “Any given night if we shot well we can play with anybody.”
Ralston Valley (20-1, 12-0 in 5A Jeffco) were extremely hot shooting from the 3-point range. The Mustangs buried nine 3-pointers in the first half. The sister tandem of Ashley and Sammy Van Sickle combined for seven 3-pointers. Seniors Michaela Shaklee (13 points) and Chloe Gillach (seven points) each hit one from long range as the Mustangs took a 43-24 lead at halftime.
“Sammy hasn’t been on fire for a long time and she just killed it today,” said Ashley Van Sickle, who finished with 22 points. “Everybody stepped up. Everyone played the role they needed to play. We did what we needed to do.”
Sammy Van Sickle finished with 17 points before fouling out in the final minute. Sarah Bevington contributed 11 points for Ralston Valley, but the work done on the defensive end by Bevington, Sammy Van Sickle and sophomore Shelby Nichols didn’t go unnoticed.
The No. 8 Bruins are able to throw in a handful of 6-footers at teams with some impressive depth. Junior Jaela Richardson (12 points), along with seniors Lauren McMillen (10 points) and Laura Pranger (seven points) pounded it inside the paint against the Mustangs.
“We wanted to try to front the post and keep it out of the post as much as possible,” Bevington said. “They are so strong and effective on the inside.”
Cherry Creek made its expected run in the second half led by freshman sensation Jana Van Gytenbeck. The guard finished with 22 points, including five 3-pointers.
The Bruins cut the Mustangs’ lead to 58-54 with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Ashley Van Sickle admitted she was gassed playing every minute, but she knew the core six players for the Mustangs could hang on for the big win.
“We have heart. We play all the way through,” said Ashley, who was also pleased with the large student section that was treated to free pizza at halftime. “We all can count on each other and count on our coaches.”
Ralston Valley made 8-of-11 free throws in the final quarter and the Bruins weren’t able to hit a 3-pointer in the final few minutes to threaten the Mustangs’ lead.
“It was great playing such a great team like that,” Bevington said. “We had to keep our composure. It was a good opportunity to get ready for playoffs.”
Saturday night was a good test for the Mustangs. Ralston Valley has only had a couple of close games in the 5A Jeffco League over the past two months. No. 9 Lakewood gave the Mustangs two tight games and Ralston Valley struggled in a victory against Bear Creek.
“This was amazing. This is a great win,” Ashley said. “Hopefully our RPI goes up a little bit so we can grab one of those No. 1 seeds.”
The Mustangs were No. 5 in the RPI rankings heading into Saturday’s game. What could hurt Ralston Valley’s chances for one of the four No. 1 seeds is the fact that Fairview had to forfeit eight games this week after self-reporting it played an ineligible player.
Fairview’s record went from 16-4 to 10-10 because of the forfeits. Ralston Valley defeated the Knights in the championship of the Fairview Festival Tournament before winter break, so the Mustangs’ RPI dropped with Fairview’s winning percentage dropping.
Ralston Valley can officially clinch the 5A Jeffco title at Columbine on Tuesday, Feb. 14. The Mustangs close out their regular season at home against rival Arvada West on Thursday night.
Cherry Creek has a chance to get revenge on No. 1 Grandview on Wednesday, Feb. 15. The Wolves handed the Bruins their lone conference loss Jan. 15.