ThunderRidge and boys basketball coach Joe Ortiz will once again be in a state tournament Final Four game.
The Grizzles, the second seeded in the tournament bracket, ended a 23-game winning streak by Chatfield with a 72-64 Class 5A quarterfinal win over the Chargers on March 4 at the Denver Coliseum.
ThunderRidge (24-2) will challenge third-seeded George Washington (24-2) in a 7 p.m. semifinal game on March 10 at the Coliseum. The championship game will be played March 11 at 8:30 p.m.
The Grizzlies advanced into the semifinals for the eighth time in school history, but Ortiz doesn't feel any different.
“I'm nervous as all get out,” Ortiz said. “I don't know if it gets any easier. Each team is new and each year is new. We had a lot of Final Fours in a row. We had four in a row then we had two (in a row) one time. Now, two out of three but I don't know if we are comfortable.”
ThunderRidge used a big second quarter that included a 13-4 run to take a comfortable lead into the second half.
“We started and got up on them easy and that was nice,” Ortiz said. “We knew they were going to come back and we started playing cautious. They can score in bunches. Then we had some silly, kind of tired turnovers. We held on and made some plays down the stretch.”
Junior Kaison Hammonds scored 30 points and sank all 11 of his free throw attempts to pace the Grizzlies attack. He also had a team-high nine rebounds.
Chatfield (24-2) made a charge with five straight points at the end of the third quarter, but Hammonds opened the fourth with two baskets to stake the Grizzlies to a 13-point advantage.
“We kind of lost our momentum at the end of the third, had some little mistakes, but we came back strong,” Hammonds said. “I hit those shots and we started to feed off of that. It feels great to be in the Final Four. We've worked hard and I know coach is happy.”
Ortiz was pleased with the play of Hammonds.
“He played within himself,” Ortiz said. “Sometimes, he gets a little excited, gets sped up and presses a little bit. Today, everything was within himself. When he does that, he's special. He will be really special next year and he will be special this week.”