Dakota Ridge girls basketball tips off state tourney with win

LITTLETON — Dakota Ridge’s girls basketball team won’t mind packing its bags for a long postseason road trip.

The No. 17-seeded Eagles took a 47-30 victory over No. 48 seed Rock Canyon in the opening round of the Class 5A state tournament Tuesday night. Next up for Dakota Ridge: a 242-mile trip to Grand Junction High School for a second-round game against the No. 16 Grand Junction Tigers, who had a bye in the first round.

Dakota Ridge junior Emily Doolittle (11) plays tight defense on Rock Canyon senior Emily Cottrell on Tuesday night in the first-round playoff game. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“I think No. 15 through No. 20 seeds are tough. I would rather play on a Tuesday to get some momentum,” Dakota Ridge coach Diane Thompson said after a fourth-straight season with a first-round playoff victory since Thompson took over the program in the 2015-16 season. “It’s tough to go to Grand Junction, but it is what it is. You just hope you keep winning and keep advancing.”

The task now for the Eagles (15-9 record) is to get to the round of 16, something Dakota Ridge did last season before losing to 5A Jeffco rival Lakewood in the Sweet 16.

Dakota Ridge will leave Thursday for its playoff game Friday night in Grand Junction.

Grand Junction (16-7) and Dakota Ridge actually played each other earlier this season with the Eagles taking a 10-point victory in the Castle View/ThunderRidge Tip-off Tournament on Dec. 1. If Dakota Ridge can defeat Grand Junction again it would likely set up a Sweet 16 showdown Tuesday, Feb. 26, against top-seeded Highlands Ranch (22-1).

“We would love to play Highlands Ranch,” Dakota Ridge senior Maggie Hawley said. “Anything can happen in the playoffs. Anyone can come out and win.”

Rock Canyon even looked like it could be a threat against Dakota Ridge. The Jaguars trailed just 19-13 at halftime against the Eagles. Daniels was carrying most of the load offensively with 11 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers.

Daniels didn’t seem bothered despite her shooting arm heavily wrapped. She hyperextended her elbow in a loss to Ralston Valley six days earlier.

Dakota Ridge senior Sydney Daniels, right, led the way with 14 points in the Eagles' win Tuesday night over Rock Canyon. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“I’ve played with it for a couple of games so I’ve kind of gotten used to it,” said Daniels, who finished with a game-high 14 points.

Daniels and Hawley made sure their final game on Dakota Ridge’s home court wouldn’t be their last prep basketball game. Hawley added eight points in the second half as the Eagles pulled away.

“Seniors step up in big moments and I felt like Sydney (Daniels) and Maggie (Hawley) really controlled the game,” Thompson said. “They took advantage of their last home games tonight.”

Sophomore Alexis Thornton got the Eagles off to a great start to the second half. She poured in nine straight points to open the second half to stretch Dakota Ridge’s lead to 28-15. The Eagles would eventually outscore the Jaguars 18-4 in the third quarter.

Thornton finished with 13 points.

“We were looking for specific shots,” Thompson said of the Eagles’ 9-0 run in the opening two minutes of the third quarter. “When they slow themselves down, have their feet set, good things happen.”

Dakota Ridge sophomore Alexis Thornton (22) looks for an open teammate as the Eagles' student section looks on Tuesday night. The Eagles' 17-point win over Rock Canyon advanced Dakota Ridge to face Grand Junction on the Western Slope on Friday night in the second round of the state playoffs. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)