WHEAT RIDGE — It only took one basket in the fourth quarter Thursday night for Wheat Ridge to end a 12-year drought on the boys basketball court.
Senior Blair McVicker’s floater just outside the paint with 20 seconds left in the final quarter gave the Farmers a 57-56 lead against rival Golden. It would be the final points in a strange fourth quarter where Wheat Ridge, No. 9 in the Class 4A CHSAANow.com rankings, scored just two points in the final eight minutes.
“He (McVicker) has really been our go-to guy when we need to get a basket,” Wheat Ridge coach Tom Dowd said after the 1-point victory against the Demons clinched the Class 4A Jeffco League title.
The last conference title for the Farmers came in 2007 when Wheat Ridge was playing at the 5A level.
Wheat Ridge (18-4, 10-1 in league) held a 55-43 lead when sophomore Wes Miller drained his fourth 3-pointer of the game with 50 seconds left in the third quarter. However, Golden (11-11, 7-4) went on a 13-0 run and grabbed a 56-55 lead when senior Ilja Bubukin scored with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter.
“That would have been an easy fourth quarter to quit on,” McVicker admitted with the Farmers going scoreless for more than eight minutes. “We said no. We wanted this too much and wanted to lock up the league title.”
McVicker beat Golden junior Kevin Mulligan off the dribble on what was the game-winning play. Before Golden’s David O’Connell and Jack Anderson could rotate over on the defense the senior transfer from Faith Christian Academy got off the shot.
“He (Mulligan) pushed up on me before we were going to run a play,” McVicker said of the eventual game-winning shot. “That’s how you play basketball. If someone is in your grill you go by him. (O’Connell) tried to draw the charge. I just got the pull-up off in time. Thankfully it went in and we were able to hold on from there on out.”
Miller, son of Wheat Ridge baseball coach Adam Miller, had a huge game off the bench. The sophomore drained back-to-back 3-pointers in the span of 11 seconds in the third quarter.
“That was one of the coolest basketball plays I’ve ever seen in my life,” McVicker said of Miller scoring essentially a 6-point play that gave the Farmers their biggest lead of the game at 48-35.
Miller hit the first 3-pointer from the top of the key and was fouled after the shot. The Farmers got the ball back and found Miller on the wing for another quick 3-pointer.
“He (Miller) was a huge spark for us tonight. He has been streaky,” Dowd said. “He is confident and isn’t afraid to shoot it.”
Miller finished with 14 points and McVicker poured in 10 points. Senior Julian Claussen led the way with 16 points for the Farmers in the historic win.
“I’ve been watching Wheat Ridge basketball for about 16 years and I’ve never seen them beat Golden on this court with my own eyes,” Miller said. “This game means so much for me.”
The win also washed away a tough home loss to Evergreen on Tuesday. Wheat Ridge closes out the regular season with a 1 p.m. tipoff Saturday, Feb. 16, on the road against Standley Lake.
“We need to get our rhythm back on offense. We have hit the wall a little bit with some guys. We are a little beat up and a little tired,” Dowd said. “It will be nice to have a playoff game here at Wheat Ridge. We’ve been pretty good in the playoffs at home since I’ve been here.”
The 48-team 4A state tournament begins next week with first-round games Wednesday, Feb. 20. The Farmers — No. 12 in the RPI standings heading into Thursday’s game — likely will receive a top-16, get a first-round bye and host a second-round game Saturday, Feb. 23.
Dowd gave a lot of credit to his son and assistant coach Vince Dowd after the Farmers celebrated taking photos with the conference trophy.
“We wouldn’t be here without Vince,” Dowd said. “He has the guys ready and always has stuff during timeouts. Without him I’d be lost.”
Golden hopes to find its way in a regular-season finale on road against Green Mountain at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Demons have dropped two in a row this week after an overtime loss Tuesday to D’Evelyn and tough loss to Wheat Ridge.
“We have to get back up and battle against Green Mountain,” Golden coach Lou Vullo said. “We can be a dangerous team. If we play like that for 32 minutes we are going to beat a lot of teams for sure.”
Bubukin and Mulligan combined for 30 points against the Farmers. Junior Carter Thompson added 10 points in the loss.
“We had several chances to win it there in the end,” Vullo said referring to going 1-for-4 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. “The boys fought, scraped and crawled back into it. This team plays hard for me. I love them all.”