GOLDEN — Pueblo East continues to have success against familiar foes during the Class 4A boys basketball state tournament.
“When we saw them (Golden) on the bracket we knew it was revenge time,” said Pueblo East senior Darnell Kindred, who poured in 20 points for the Eagles on Wednesday night in the Sweet 16 game at Golden High School.
Pueblo East opened its postseason run defeating rival Pueblo Central for the third time this season.
The No. 13-seeded Eagles upset No. 4 Golden Demons 65-62 in what was a rematch from earlier this season. Golden got the better against Pueblo East the first time around with a 62-59 win Dec. 7 during the Golden/D’Evelyn Preview Classic.
Pueblo East (18-7 record) flipped the script to come out on the winning end during the round of 16 state playoff game.
“We knew it was going to be tough. It was a very similar game from the first time,” Pueblo East coach Mike Massaro said of the second go-around against Golden. “I think we got the breaks this time. The things that hurt us last time were turnovers, shot selection and rebounding. We really tried to focus on those three things.”
Golden (18-7) and Pueblo East were tied 33-33 at halftime, but senior Ben McLaughlin buried back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Demons a 6-point lead early in the third quarter. McLaughlin scored a game-high 24 points, including going 15-for-18 from the free-throw line to go along with a trio of 3-pointers.
“Weather the storm,” Massaro said of McLaughlin’s back-to-back 3-pointers. “We knew we were going to take their hits. We just had to answer back. You keep plugging away and they did.”
The Eagles did answer with a 9-0 run to take the lead. Junior Kyle Miller hit a big 3-pointer and Kindred had a pair of buckets in the paint during the run.
“We knew we had the size,” Kindred said of the Eagles pounding the ball inside for the majority of the second half. “We knew if we could get in the paint we would have a good opportunity to win this game.”
Junior Brenden Harding had a solid fourth quarter pouring in eight of his 14 points in the final eight minutes before fouling out late. The Eagles closed the game making nine free throws in the final minute.
However, a missed free throw by Pueblo East junior Jaxson Herring gave Golden the ball and one final chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer. With 11.5 seconds left the Demons had the ball. However, they never got off a shot as a pass to senior Kevin Mulligan was low and went out of bounds.
“We were looking to put a shooter in the corner, have a little dribble penetration and get the kick out,” Golden coach Lou Vullo said of the play drawn up in an attempt to tie the game in the final seconds. “I think it was a bit of a bad pass, but those things happen.”
For the second year in a row, Golden bowed out of the state tournament in the Sweet 16.
“Back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and a league title this year, this team exceeded expectations,” said Vullo, who had guided the Demons to a 32-19 record over two seasons.
Pueblo East — having won 11-of-12 games — continues its revenge tour. Next up for the Eagles is No. 5 Northfield. The Nighthawks defeated Pueblo East 54-51 before winter break.
“Another revenge game,” Kindred said about heading back to the Denver Metro area Saturday to face Northfield. “We lost to them in overtime in a close game at our house. We are going to go to their house and do the same thing.”