Last March, Lauren Betts was an eighth-grade student watching Grandview’s girls basketball team win a second consecutive Class 5A state championship at the Denver Coliseum.
That night, a 6-foot-3 freshman was among the Wolves who stole the show. Addison O’Grady scored a team-high 14 points for Grandview as the team rallied for a 67-61 victory over Regis Jesuit in the state semifinals.
On Thursday night, against the Raiders, Betts was the freshman shining on the big stage. The 6-foot-7 post scored all seven of her points in the fourth quarter as Grandview used a late surge to top Regis Jesuit 48-38 in the Final 4 and advance to a third consecutive 5A title game.
“Last year, watching the championship game against Regis, I really learned a lot from Addie,” Betts said. “She played so confident out there. She didn’t even look like a freshman. I kind of took what she did and tried to do it myself.”
Grandview (23-4) will face Centennial League rival Cherry Creek (23-4) at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Coliseum. The Bruins, who split the regular-season series with the Wolves, have never won a state championship in the sport.
After Regis Jesuit used a 27-9 run to take a five-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Wolves shut the door. Grandview outscored Regis Jesuit 17-2 over the final eight minutes to secure the victory.
Betts, who had two buckets in the paint to pull the Wolves within one early in the fourth quarter, added six rebounds and three blocked shots on the night.
Junior guard Tomia Johnson, who put the Wolves back on top to stay with a steal and layup midway through the final quarter, said she had a talk with Betts earlier in the day because the freshman was a bit nervous in a quarterfinal victory over Valor Christian last weekend.
“I said, ‘We need you. We need everybody on this team to make sure we all battle,’” Johnson said. “That’s what she did. She came out and she battled.”
It’s a unique situation to have a 6-7 player coming off the bench, but Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky understood early in the season that was what the team needed.
The coach added that Betts never questioned the decision.
“I know most people are probably looking at me like I’m crazy, not having her (starting),” Ulitzky said. “But for our team, that’s the best fit. She is super-willing to do what is best for the team. That’s a sacrifice in a lot of places probably isn’t happening. But because of the makeup on our team and where we are, she willingly accepted her role.
“She has never said a word – she just goes out and plays.”
After taking a 22-9 lead on the Raiders early in the second quarter, Grandview had to withstand a big run that had the Raiders playing with all the momentum. That was until Betts helped to key the fourth-quarter rally. After Regis Jesuit’s Fran Belibi picked up her fourth foul and went to the bench, Betts was able to rediscover her confidence.
Even after Belibi returned and made it a three-point game with a little more than two minutes remaining, Betts responded with her third basket of the quarter. Johnson and Betts combined to go 4-of-5 from the free-throw line in the final 1:13 to ice things.
“The team as a whole was amazing. They were really playing for each other,” Ulitzky said. “They were happy for her. It gave our team some confidence and gave her some confidence.
“They’re a tough team, and we kind of rode it out.”
Grandview lost to Regis Jesuit by 24 points back on Dec. 12. The Wolves were 6-3 going into the winter break, but are 17-1 to this point in 2019 headed into Saturday’s title game.
Betts had a taste of the intensity of state competition at the Coliseum back in the fall with Grandview’s volleyball team. The Wolves went 1-1 in pool play at the state tournament, falling to Eaglecrest in five sets.
Betts said while there is a big difference between the two sports, having been to the Coliseum before helped calm her nerves and get her used to the atmosphere.
On Saturday she’ll have the opportunity to do what O’Grady did a year ago – show that a freshman can come up big on the sport’s biggest stage.
“This season has been so amazing so far, but we’re still wanting that championship,” Betts said. “We’re still hungry for more.”