LITTLETON — Which boys basketball team is atop the Class 5A Jeffco League standings midway through conference play?
The answer might be a bit surprising. Despite an overall losing record, Dakota Ridge (9-10, 4-0 in 5A Jeffco) is the only team in 5A Jeffco that hasn’t suffered defeat in conference play.
After Dakota Ridge’s 64-60 victory Saturday afternoon against area-rival Chatfield, the Eagles hold a 1-game lead over the likes of No. 3 Ralston Valley (16-3, 3-1), No. 8 Valor Christian (12-6, 3-1), Columbine (15-3, 3-1) and Arvada West (7-11, 3-1).
“We honestly just take it as we are just looking forward toward Valor on Wednesday (Feb. 12),” Dakota Ridge coach Sean Kovar said when asked about the 4-0 start in league play. “Yes, we’ve had a great start, but we know there is a lot of work left.”
That work includes facing Valor, Columbine and Ralston Valley over the span of eight days beginning Feb. 12 with a home game against Valor. Dakota Ridge is then at Columbine on Friday, Feb. 14. The three-game stretch ends at home versus Ralston Valley on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
Dakota Ridge has won 5-of-6 games after enduring a 5-game losing streak before winter break and 4-game losing streak before conference play began.
The Eagles looked to be in trouble against rival Chatfield (6-14, 0-5). The Chargers held a 23-9 lead early in the second quarter.
“We didn’t change anything really,” Kovar said of the Eagles fighting back from a double-digit deficit on the road. “We had to find away to get tougher and get stops (defensively). Our guys hit some big shots and found a way. I really don’t know how.”
Dakota Ridge chipped away trimming Chatfield’s lead to 37-29 at halftime. The Eagles trailed 48-43 heading to the fourth quarter. Then, it was Hunter Hickman time.
The junior caught on fire in the fourth quarter. He scored a dozen points in the final eight minutes. His bucket with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter gave Dakota Ridge the lead for good at 55-53.
“I didn’t plan on taking over,” said Hickman, which finished with a team-high 17 points. “Teammates got me open a lot and I hit my first couple. I didn’t hit a lot of shots in the first half, but my coaches kept on encouraging me and keeping me positive.”
Kovar agreed that it was a team effort that got Hickman hot to close out the come-from-behind victory.
“They set some great screens and we found a way to get him (Hickman) open looks,” Kovar said. “He is a great shooter, he stepped up knocked down some shots and his job.”
Chatfield had to endure another heartbreaking loss. The Chargers have suffered single-digit losses in every league game and lost two conference games in overtime.
Junior Nate Jacobson scored a team-high 17 points in the fifth straight loss for Chatfield. Sophomore Chase Miller had a nice game with 9 points for the Chargers.
Dakota Ridge’s Taeshaud Jackson Jr. had a big game with 16 points. The athletic 6-foot-6 junior spent a lot of time at the free-throw line making 8-of-11 from the charity stripe.
“He (Jackson) is a game-changer for us,” Hickman said. “Everyone collapse on him when he is in the middle. It really makes my job a whole lot easier.”
Dakota Ridge senior Brayden Rhoades finished with 12 points, including a trio of 3-pointers to get bragging rights for a year over rival Chatfield.
“It’s big. Play Chatfield is always special every year for us,” Hickman said. “We really wanted this one and we got it.”