ARVADA — Ralston Valley’s boys basketball team had the sweet taste of a playoff victory Saturday night.
“I think for almost all of us this is our first playoff win,” Ralston Valley senior Walker Brickle said after the No. 3-seeded Mustangs defeated No. 30 Arapahoe 63-52 on Saturday night. “I’m just really proud of everyone and excited for the next round.”
Ralston Valley (21-3 record) will host No. 19 George Washington on Wednesday, March 4, in the round of 16 of the Class 5A boys basketball state tournament. The Patriots upset No. 14 Horizon 80-60 earlier in the day in a second-round game.
“Getting that one win is really hard to get,” Ralston Valley coach Chris Braketa said of getting his first playoff win in three years as head coach for the Mustangs. “GW is a really tough team and they are on a run. They are playing really good late and they are really athletic.”
The only current player for Ralston Valley who has experience a postseason win is senior Caden Gigstad. The Mustangs defeated Fruita-Monument in the opening round of the 5A state tournament back on Feb. 22, 2017 when Gigstad was a freshman.
“I don’t know what I was thinking back then,” Gigstad said when asked if he though as a freshman if the Mustangs would advance to the Sweet 16 during his time at Ralston Valley. “This year I think we can go further than that. But we have to focus one game at a time.”
Ralston Valley endured a 3-20 record during the 2017-18 season in Braketa’s first year at the helm. The Mustangs were 17-7 last season, but suffered a second-round playoff loss at home after a first-round bye.
After a great start Saturday night that featured Ralston Valley getting out to a 35-20 lead at halftime thanks to a big 13-point quarter by senior Caleb Rillos, Arapahoe (13-12) battled back.
“I was nervous. I’m not going to lie,” Braketa said about the Warriors going on an 11-0 run in the third quarter to cut the lead to single-digits. “We talked at halftime that they were going to make a run because they are a very good team. We knew with (Korey) Hess and (Bryson) Stephens — those are two really good guards — they would make that run. I’m proud of our guys for containing and maintaining what we had.”
Arapahoe senior Bryson Stephens poured in a game-high 31 points. A pair of free throws by Stephens with 2:29 left in the fourth quarter cut Ralston Valley’s lead to 52-46.
“He (Stephens) is a quick one,” Gigstad said of guarding Stephens for most of the night. “He put me to the test for sure.”
Arapahoe had the ball down just six points with less than two minutes to play, but the Mustangs’ defense stepped up. Ralston Valley sophomore Beau Wilken was able to grab a steal on an inside pass by the Warriors and get it ahead to Brickle for a layup and the foul.
“That was huge and then he made the free throw,” Braketa said of Brickle’s 3-point play the hard way with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter that pushed the Mustangs’ lead to 55-46. “Walker came up big. He played pretty well the whole game.”
While the Mustangs made just four field goals in the second half, Ralston Valley went 17-for-21 from the free-throw line in the final quarter to seal the victory. Brickle missed three free throws in the first quarter, but went 5-for-5 in the final four minutes.
“I missed a couple in the beginning,” Brickle said of his free throws. “I just tightened it up and trusted my shot.”
Brickle finished with 14 points. Gigstad poured in 16 points while Rillos finished with a team-high 21 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe.
Arapahoe's first-year coach Troy Pachner — former D'Evelyn and Valor Christian coach — guided the Warriors to their first winning record since the 2013-14 season.