HIGHLANDS RANCH - ThunderRidge is an undersized team who was going against an athletic and taller Overland team in a March 2 Class 5A second-round boys basketball state playoff game.
It's the kind of challenge that brings the best out of Grizzlies' 6-foot senior Joe Marucci.
Overland had a 51-50 lead with 5:21 remaining in the game when Marucci went to work and helped the Grizzlies (18-6) move into a March 6 Sweet 16 game at Fairview (21-3).
Marucci scored 8 points as the Grizzlies outscored Overland 17-4 in the final five minutes for a 67-57 victory.
“That's exactly what I was hoping for, was a run,” ThunderRidge coach Joe Ortiz said. “We had four stops in a row and that might have been a key.
“Joe is a big-time player in big games. The game at Mountain Vista, he had 25 and took over in the fourth quarter. He's had so many games like that. He's a gamer.”
Marucci scored a game-high 23 points and got support from Zach Rusk with 17 points and Peter Howell who added 12 points.
“Joe's got swagger,” Ortiz admitted. “He does get at people. He won't let you intimidate him. So he's not a typical Highlands Ranch kind of kid. He's got a 4.3 GPA. He's a bright kid.
“He's a free-spirited guy. He's got a lot of toughness. He's the kind of kid you love if you coach him. You might not love him if your go against him because of his cockiness.”
Marucci sank two free throws to push ThunderRidge ahead 52-51 and launched the Grizzlies' game-ending run.
He nailed a 3-point basket and drove the lane for a layup to spark a 14-2 spurt that gave ThunderRidge an 11-point cushion heading into the final two minutes of the game.
“They (Trailblazers) were so explosive and dangerous,” Ortiz said. “In high school basketball, there are no easy rounds. They were making plays. It was a hard-fought game.”