MONUMENT — Leiws-Palmer prides itself on a defense first mentality. But sometimes, enough offense needs to played in order for good things to happen.
So while a 55-45 win over Sierra in the Class 4 Sweet 16 might not like great offensive effort, the Rangers were all about getting buckets in the first quarter.
And that set the tone for the rest of the way.
“We always talk about setting the pace,” senior Billy Cook said. “It starts with defense, but if we can do it on both sides, that kind of just wears them down from the beginning.”
The Stallions (20-5 overall) scored the first basket of the game on a Derrian Reed 3-pointer. But two quick layups from Cook made it a 4-3 game and Sierra coach Terry Dunn did not like what he saw. He burned a quick timeout, hoping to settle his boys down.
It would have no effect.
Angelo Battistelli and Andrew Blomberg knocked down back-to-back triples for the Rangers (21-4) to push their lead to 10-3. C.J. Jennings finally got the first of his game-high 23 points about halfway through the first quarter, but Sierra was already stuck in quicksand.
“It kind of buried us,” Dunn said. “It seemed like everything they shot, they hit and everything that we shot, we missed.”
In order to limit Jennings’ offensive output, LP put Eli Burkett on him. Burkett was able to make Jennings’ shots contested and in the first half, that proved to be enough as the ball just couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
But that wasn’t the case for the Rangers. Sophomore Joel Scott took the floor for the most important game at this point in his young career and showed that he will be able to live up to his family name.
He scored 14 of his points in the first half and ended the night matching Jennings’ 23.
“We just keep rising to the occasion,” Scott said. “We know that we have the confidence to come out and beat any team that we play.”
They’ve done that very frequently this season. The Rangers haven’t lost since Jan. 6 and have won in convincing fashion more often than not.
Coach Bill Benton thought his team was good enough to get to this point, but the only thing that really surprises him about this run is how early it started.
“If you would’ve told me this team was running off 16 wins in a row going up to and through the playoffs, I wouldn’t have believed that,” he said. “I’m a little shocked by that. But I’m not shocked that this team is now now in the (Great 8). We always talked that they were February-March ready, they were just January ready.”
Now they just need to be Great 8 ready. The Rangers will travel to D’Evelyn on Saturday with the winner of that game advancing to the Final 4.
“This team has played really well on the road,” Benton said. “There’s a couple of guys that were on the team when we were up in D’Evelyn the last time in this scenario. They’re very much like us, very balanced.”
The Stallions conclude a season that showed immense promise with a large senior class. Jennings ends his career scoring 1,413 points and is one of the best players Dunn has had the pleasure of being around.
“I would say probably top-two (with Wesley Gordon),” Dunn said.
Gordon’s high school career also ended at the hands of Lewis-Palmer and Joel Scott’s oldest brother, Josh.
But as Dunn did before and he’ll do again, he’ll get his next group of players ready to take the court next season.