Defending 4A and 5A champions, Mullen and Cherry Creek squared off in a Centennial League game. The game provided a great look at potential repeat state champions going head-to-head in a match, I’m sure many would like to see as a state title game this year. However, fans will continue to wait for Mullen to gain a 5A bid before that can happen. In the meantime, Wednesday’s game will have to suffice.
Mullen stuck early as junior guard Megan Pohs found herself all alone underneath the basket off the opening tip win by sophomore forward Imani Perez. The Bruins hit back two possessions later with a basket by senior forward Cali Clark. Another quick basket gave Cherry Creek the lead and they never looked back. Mullen’s Haley Van Horn had a chance to tie it up at four off a weak foul call on Clark, but was unable to convert both from the line. Cherry Creek could feel momentum shifting in their favor and began to push the tempo with a fast break basket by junior KaCee Kyle. Stanford commit, Jana Van Gytenbeek extended the Bruin lead to 13-7 with a hesitation three-pointer from the corner, but a quick basket by Mullen cut the lead back to four. The two-possession game was short-lived as Cherry Creek’s Eliza Hill came up with a put-back basket as the first quarter came to an end with the Bruins holding a 15-9 lead over the reigning 4A champs.
Cherry Creek dominated the second and third quarters, as they sent a message around the Centennial League and all of 5A that they are the team to beat. Rightfully so, ranked number one in the state, the Bruins put on an excellent display of stifling defense and made sure to capitalize on the offensive side of the ball. Mullen was unable to find the bottom of the hoop after four minutes of play in the second quarter before Van Horn connected following a Mullen timeout to regroup and set a new game plan. KaCee Kyle was bound and determined to not let Mullen wedge their way back as she heated up from beyond the arc sending the teams into the half with a Bruin 32-15 lead.
The third quarter continued much the same for Mullen as they were held to just five points in the frame while Cherry Creek dropped another 14 points. The fourth quarter could not end fast enough for Mullen as they continued to struggle from the field. The Mustangs were able to outscore the Bruins 18-12 in the final frame, but a majority of their points came with the game no longer in question. In a game that pitted the reigning 4A and 5A champions against one another for their first of two on the year, Cherry Creek went home with a decisive 20-point victory, defeating Mullen 58-38.
The Mustangs entered the night as the number one ranked 4A team. A loss to Cherry Creek shouldn’t hurt their ranking much, if at all. They played tough, but in the end the class difference was noticeable. I do fully expect Mullen to make another strong push for the 4A championship in March, and the rest of their Centennial League matchups should help them be fully prepared. The trio of juniors Megan Pohs, Haley Van Horn and sophomore Imani Perez once again flashed great ability to control the ball on offense and defense while putting up consistent numbers. Although they were held in check tonight, this group is a force to be reckoned with as the scored eight, seven, and five points respectively.
The Bruins sent a clear message to the state of Colorado in their 20-point win over Mullen. Jana Van Gytenbeek is the best player in the state and she has all the pieces she needs around her to help this squad on their path to repeating as 5A State Champions. Cali Clark continues to impress inside and came up big tonight with a handful of blocks on Perez and even flashed her range connecting from beyond the arc. KaCee Kyle and Abby Wrede are developing more and more as vital contributing roles on the team as well that the Bruins can count on to deliver when they need it. Clark finished with a game-high 17 points, while Wrede and Kyle were right behind her with 15 and 14 respectively. Van Gytenbeek had what some would consider a quiet night with seven points, but was the catalyst for the Bruins offense, unselfishly finding her teammates for high percentage looks.