(9) Lakewood 61, (1) Highlands Ranch 49
DENVER — Lakewood’s girls basketball team is headed to the Final 4 for the first time in the program’s history.
The No. 9-seeded Tigers upset top-seed Highlands Ranch 61-49 at the Denver Coliseum in the Class 5A state quarterfinal game Friday night.
“It’s so sweet. It’s such a good feeling,” said Lakewood senior Camilla Emsbo after the Tigers earned a semifinal date next Thursday back at the Denver Coliseum against Cherry Creek. “This was my third time down here. I wasn’t ready to be crying afterwards. I cried any ways, but it was happy crying.”
It was the fourth straight Great 8 appearance for Lakewood (21-5 record), but first victory in the state quarterfinals for the Tigers. Lakewood has won 86 games during their current four-year run.
The 6-foot-4 Emsbo, who had to carry the teams at times because of injuries, finished with a game-high 21 points and 14 rebounds. Junior Sassy Coleman pitched in 10 points and fellow junior Hannah Renstrom had eight points, all from the free-throw line, to lead the way for the Tigers.
Camilla's twin sister, Kira, also finished with eight points. Kira missed a good part of the season with an elbow injury.
“We came out to prove some people wrong. I think we did just that,” Emsbo said. “We played our hearts out.”
Lakewood went on a 9-0 run to end the second quarter, taking a 28-21 lead at halftime. Highlands Ranch cut the Tigers’ lead to 28-27 a few minutes into the third quarter, but Lakewood responded with Emsbo and Coleman combining for 14 points in the third quarter.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Highlands Ranch’s Courtney Humbarger and Tommi Olson trimmed Lakewood’s lead to 49-47 midway through the fourth quarter. However, Lakewood answered again by outscoring the Falcons 12-2 in the final four minutes to take the victory.
Sophomores Autumn Watts and Kasey Neubert led the young Falcons with a dozen points each, but neither scored in the final quarter.
“We moved the ball so well to get the looks we needed to get in the fourth quarter,” Lakewood coach Chris Poisson said.
It was the first loss to an in-state team for Highlands Ranch. The Falcons’ pair of regular-season losses were against to out-of-state teams. The Falcons (23-3) were riding a 14-game winning streak before suffering the season-ending loss. On a positive note for Highlands Ranch, coach Caryn Jarocki graduates just one senior.
“It means everything. It’s pretty cool,” an emotional Poisson said about the Tigers advancing to their first Final 4. “I have nothing but respect for (Highlands Ranch).”
Despite being one of the most consistent 5A girls hoops programs in the state winning seven 5A state trophies since 2000, Highlands Ranch hasn’t grabbed a championship title since 2011.
— Dennis Pleuss
(11) Regis Jesuit 55, (3) Horizon 46
Regis Jesuit freshman point guard Jada Moore knocked down a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter that gave the Raiders a five-point lead. It felt like the momentum was in their corner, but they had to battle it out to come away with a 55-46 win over Horizon to advance to Thursday's Final 4.
"We had a bit of a lead and then that burst," coach Carl Mattei said. "In the second half, they had a run. Kylie (Jimenez) is a heck of a player and she just willed it and our kids just kept fighting back.
Jimenez led the game with 21 points, but her teammates also came up big as the Hawks did everything possible to remain in the playoff hunt.
They took a 32-30 lead on a Sam Deem basket and Aly Jimenez followed it up with a 3-pointer to push it to 35-30.
But the two teams continued to battle each other and it was sophomore Francesca Belibi who would provide the steady hand for the Raiders.
"I got on Fran a bit and said 'attack them,'" Mattei said. "And then Fran attacked and we woke up with about two minutes to go."
Belibi scored a team-high 17 points while Emma Were scored 11 and Moore added nine.
As the clock continued to whittle down and the game was still a one-score affair, the Raiders knew that in order achieve their team goal of the Final 4, they just had to focus on the task at hand.
"We weren't even looking at the score," Belibi said. "We were just trying to get the points in, get our layups in, and keep our momentum."
They were able to grab a 48-45 lead as Sidney Weigand made her way to the free throw line with a chance to extend it. She knocked the first down, effectively making it a two-score game and the Hawks couldn't muster any more offense.
Now the Raiders have just under a week to rest up and prepare to take on an impressive looking Grandview team on Thursday.
But regardless of how that matchup turns out, this season has been a success for a Regis Jesuit team that rosters only two seniors.
"Our goal from day one was the Final 4," Mattei said. "I knew with our team, we had the ability to get there. But when you have a freshman point guard, you have to keep the highs not too high and the lows not too low. Keeping Jada in control emotionally keeps my team in control."
— Dan Mohrmann
(12) Cherry Creek 56, (4) Ralston Valley 39
No. 12-seeded Cherry Creek upset No. 4-seeded Ralston Valley behind a huge effort from junior Sydney Mech.
Mech started the game off with a wide-open three from the corner. She stayed hot from behind the arc, posting 27 points.
"I was the screener, and we just picked and popped," Mech said. "It was always open every single time."
At halftime, the Bruins led 28-22.
"We had to come out and crush them and tell them that we're here to win," Mech said. "We needed to get that lead to keep them out of the game."
Coach Chris Curneen must have said something pretty inspiring to his girls because Cherry Creek jumped out to an 8-0 run over Ralston Valley out of the half.
"The first three minutes of the second half is the biggest part of the game," Curneen said. "It's one of our cornerstones — we want to come out strong in the second half."
Senior Lauren McMillen had 15 rebounds, 13 of them defensively.
Ralston Valley beat Cherry Creek twice during the regular season: first a 56-42 win in the Fairview Festival and 70-60 at Ralston Valley. The difference in those games was team play and Mech.
"Quite honestly, the other difference was that we played a lot better as a team," Curneen said. "On defense, we didn't let them get the wide open looks they got the first two times we met. We were determined that we were going to make them work a lot harder on offense."
The plan worked as Cherry Creek held Ralston Valley to 13/49 shooting.
"That's not the offense we've run all year," Ralston Valley coach Jeff Gomer said. "A lot of one-on-one stuff. Once we got down, we really started pressing."
Mech was out with a knee injury the first time the two teams met. Ralston Valley had a huge lead in the second game, but hung on for the win, giving the Bruins confidence that they had the Mustangs' number.
"Sydney makes a huge difference," Curneen said. "She was still coming off her knee injury for the second game, so she wasn't 100 percent."
Ashley Van Sickle did her best to try and rally Ralston Valley with nine points and five rebounds.
The combination of lockdown defense and spacing on offense was too much as freshman Jana Van Gytenbeek captained the Bruins offense with poise.
"With Jana on the floor, she's such a good captain," Curneen said. "When we keep the spacing we want, we get the shots we want, she's such an intelligent player. For a freshman, she is phenomenal. As long as we keep our spacing and keep our movement, she's going to find the right person."
Van Gytenbeek found the right person again and again: Sydney Mech.
Cherry Creek will face No. 9-seed Lakewood.
— Cannon Casey
(2) Grandview 88, (7) Doherty 46
Grandview girls basketball took care of business with an 88-46 win in an upset-riddled Great 8.
The Wolves rode a 27-2 run to take control of the game and move into the Class 5A girls basketball final four. Grandview outscored Doherty 29-6 in the second quarter alone.
"We try and hang our hat on (defense) all the time," Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky said. "We really try and focus on quarter by quarter, possession by possession and holding people to single-digit quarters, so it helps when you've got great kids who defend well."
The offensive outburst was led by Jaiden Galloway and Michaela Onyenwere. Galloway turned in a 29-point effort, while Onyenwere contributed 24 points and eight rebounds of her own.
"The kids settled down a bit and played better defense, so it was really great to see," Ulitzky said. "Jaiden Galloway was amazing. I'm really happy for her. She doesn't get maybe as much notoriety, but she does so much for us. I'm just so happy to see her have such a great game."
Doherty came out of the gate with high energy and had Grandview in foul trouble early. The Wolves were missing wide open shots and turning the ball over. But, Grandview was able to settle down and turn the game on Doherty.
"We didn't come out as strong as they did, but we started to notice they were getting in eachother's heads and not playing as a team," Galloway said. "So that was our chance to come back as a team."
The Wolves were able to hold the Spartan offense to just 31.4 percent shooting and forced 28 turnovers.
"I think our defense was great," Galloway said. "Defense wins championships."
Grandview's bigs were a force in the lane, contesting shots and grabbing rebounds. Alisha Davis had three blocks and Leilah Vigil came down with 10 rebounds. Grandview had 43 total rebounds.
Grandview (25-1) has yet to lose in the state of Colorado. The lone loss for the Wolves came in a 66-60 overtime loss against Miami Country Day in the Nike Tournament of Champions.
Grandview's win streak sits at 19 games. They move on to play the winner of No. 3 Horizon vs. No. 11 Regis Jesuit.
"We've got some great teams coming up, so we certainly have that challenge ahead of us," Ulitzky said.
— Cannon Casey
Class 5A girls Final 4:
All games at the Denver Coliseum
- (11) Regis Jesuit vs. (2) Grandview
- (9) Lakewood vs. (12) Cherry Creek