ARVADA — What a different a year makes.
Ralston Valley’s boys basketball team had a 3-20 record last season and finished last in the Class 5A Jeffco League with a 0-14 mark. Fast-forward this season, the Mustangs won their ninth straight game Saturday afternoon with a 76-69 home victory over Chatfield in both teams’ conference opener.
“I think it’s just experience, honestly,” Ralston Valley junior Luke Carlston said of the turnaround from last year’s 20-loss season. “The sophomores got to get experience last year and this year we only have one senior in Jordan (Stratch) and really look up to him.”
The juniors led the way for the Mustangs (11-4, 1-0 in 5A Jeffco) in the league opener. Carlston (23 points), Caleb Rillos (19 points), Walker Brickle (11 points) and Caden Gigstad (nine points) — all juniors — combined for 62 points.
Stratch came off the bench to pitch in a dozen.
“Ralston Valley is a good team. They have a lot of pieces,” Chatfield senior Luke Carlson admitted. “They are big. They have a lot of shooters. It’s a tough team.”
Carlson led the way for the Chargers (6-10, 0-1) with a game-high 26 points. Chatfield actually led 24-21 after the first quarter, but Ralston Valley dominated the second quarter outscoring the Chargers 19-3.
The only basket for Chatfield in the second quarter with a 3-pointer by sophomore Dylan Carter, who finished with 19 points in the loss.
“(Ralston Valley) switched up its defense and that messed with our minds I guess,” Carlson said of the second quarter. “We just lost our energy. Take out the second quarter and we’re right in it.”
Carlston poured in a dozen points in the third quarter as Ralston Valley extended its lead to 20 points. The 6-foot-3 forward was aggressive driving to the basket.
“He (Carlston) is a tough match-up,” Ralston Valley coach Chris Braketa said. “With Luke you just have to let him go and let him be him. When he is locked in he is a tough, tough guard and he gets after it rebounding wise.”
Chatfield did make it interesting in the fourth quarter. Carlson scored a dozen points in the final seven minutes to give the Chargers a chance at a remarkable comeback.
Ralston Valley’s lead got trimmed down to five points in the final minute, but Rillos and Carlston both made free throws late to preserve the victory.
“The second quarter was big to get a good margin ahead,” Carlston said. “Chatfield is a great program. It was great to hold them at bay in the end.”
The win started a run of eight conference games over the next four weeks for Ralston Valley. Last year the eight league teams each had home-and-home match-ups against each conference opponent to make for a 14-game league schedule.
This season its just a one go-around for an eight-game league schedule with the addition of Valor Christian into the 5A Jeffco League.
“It is kind of weird not having the league games earlier,” Braketa said of the new format. “It’s different, but we just have to stay focused. We’ve got to work, work, work.”
Ralston Valley is on the road against Valor Christian at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23.
Chatfield is trying to get some traction after dropping five straight games. Injuries have hurt the Chargers. The latest is senior Connor Vernon suffering a wrist injury.
“We still have a long ways to go,” Carlson said.
The Chargers have a shot at ending the losing streak when they host Pomona at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23.