Dakota Ridge boys hoops remain undefeated in 5A Jeffco League play

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).

Chatfield junior Nate Jacobson (4) dribbles in front of Dakota Ridge junior Johnathan Junker and the Eagles' crowd during the Class 5A Jeffco League game. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“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.

Chatfield senior AJ Skarulis (12) has a strong take to the hole during the Saturday afternoon game against Dakota Ridge. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

“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.”

Dakota Ridge senior Taeshaud Jackson Jr. (10) splits Chatfield sophomore Chase Miller (44) and junior Nate Jacobson (4) during the Eagles' 64-60 road victory Saturday afternoon. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)