Yesterday’s final game went down as one with the most dramatic finish. The #1 Highlands Ranch Falcons faced the #4 Cherry Creek Bruins in what was their third meeting of the season. After taking games one and two, the Falcons were poised to make a clean sweep of Cherry Creek. The Bruins, however, had other plans. For the first time since 2004 the Bruins are headed to the 5A State Championship game to once again play for their first ever girls basketball title. To get there, they needed to get through a physical Highlands Ranch team, and did so on a three-pointer to give them a 53-52 lead with less than a minute to go. That point proved to be all the Bruins needed on their way to the title game Saturday evening.
Highlands Ranch was first on the board last night and took an early 9-2 lead. However, the lead didn’t last long as Cherry Creek stepped up on defense to feed a hungry offense. The Bruins took their first lead of the game with 1:30 minutes to go in the quarter following a three-pointer by junior Jana Van Gytenbeek. With three seconds to go in the first quarter, Van Gytenbeek was fouled and connected on her two free throw attempts to give Cherry Creek a 12-9 lead.
Senior Autumn Watts did not let the lead last as she knocked down a three-pointer of her own to tie the game at 12 to begin the second quarter. Cherry Creek’s two top rebounders, Cali Clark and Bella Sparaco each picked up their second fouls on back-to-back plays causing the Bruins to get creative on how to utilize their skill set, maintain their defensive pressure on Highlands Ranch’s Kasey Neubert and Watts, but to also keep them in the game down the stretch. Bruins’ head coach, Clint Evans, got creative in his substitutions to help prevent any further foul trouble for Clark and Sparaco, but in preventing fouls, he had to concede size inside. The Falcons capitalized on the floor when Clark and Sparaco sat, eventually pushing the lead to 24-17 with 1:24 left in the half. Van Gytenbeek nailed another three-pointer on the following Bruins possession and nearly hit another in the final seconds, but the ball rattled out to give Highlands Ranch a 24-20 lead heading into halftime.
The Falcons pushed the lead to nine out of the break, but back-to-back three’s by Van Gytenbeek helped Cherry Creek creep back to within a single possession. The three ball was alive and well in the third as Cherry Creek’s Carly Thompson connected from beyond the arc to tie the game at 30 before Watts drained a three-pointer to push the lead right back to three. Clark, not known for her perimeter shooting, then connected from three-point land to once again tie the game, and after a solid stop by Sparaco on Neubert underneath, Clark found the bottom of the net once again from deep. Heading into the fourth, the Falcons held a 39-38 lead behind an offensive rebound and put back by Neubert.
Momentum took a significant shift in favor of the Bruins as Van Gytenbeek once again connected from long range to begin the fourth. The Falcons answered right back, but another three by Clark gave the Bruins a 44-41 lead with six minutes to go. Following a timeout, Cherry Creek pushed the lead to five, but a Falcon three brought them to within two. Both teams capitalized on offensive possession going back and forth until tied at 50 with just over three minutes to go. The Falcons were able to go up by two, but the biggest shot of the night came from Abby Wrede who scored her only points of the night in the form of a corner three with 48.4 seconds to go giving the Bruins what would ultimately be all they needed to hang on for the win.
The Falcons statistically had the advantage grabbing 11 more rebounds of which eight offensively, but only had three more second chance points than Cherry Creek. Seniors Jamie Bain and Autumn Watts led the way for the Falcons, each scoring 13 points. Bain added eight rebounds and two assists to her point total, while Watts grabbed five rebounds and had one assist. Payton Muma finished with ten points, two rebounds, and two assists. Tori Beck finished with nine points, all from beyond the arc and snagged three rebounds. Kasey Neubert was held to only seven points despite her 13 rebounds.
Taking a page from the Golden State Warriors, the Bruins should be called the “splash girls” as they dropped ten from beyond the arc in the win. Juniors Jana Van Gytenbeek and Cali Clark led the charge for the Bruins. Van Gytenbeek finished with a game-high 21 points and grabbing four rebounds. Clark finished with 15 points, was three for three from deep, and came up with nine rebounds and three blocks.