A sweet season ended on a sour note for the Highlands Ranch girls basketball team during a semifinal game of the Class 5A state tournament on March 7 at the Denver Coliseum.
Cherry Creek, a fourth seed in the tournament, knocked the top-seeded Falcons out of the chase for the state title with a 53-52 victory in a close game that featured seven ties and nine lead changes.
It was the Falcons' first loss to a team in Colorado as Highlands Ranch, which has won seven state titles in the past, ended with a 25-2 record.
Highlands Ranch had beaten the Bruins twice during the regular season but couldn't pull off a third victory as Creek hit 10 3-point baskets, including eight in the second half to rally from a nine-point deficit early in the third quarter.
“Sure, it's a tough way to end the season but we had a chance at the end,” Ranch coach Caryn Jarocki said. “We should not have been in that situation to begin with but we had a good chance. We had a good shot, a good rebound for a put-back, but it just didn't bounce our way.
“The kids have played their hearts out for me all season. It was my most fun ever coaching.”
A 3-point basket by Payton Muma and a short jumper by Autumn Watts to open the third period gave the Falcons a 29-20 lead. But two 3-point baskets by the Bruins Jana Van Gytenbeek ignited a Creek comeback.
“We got together as a team and knew we had to make 3-pointers to get back into the game and that's what we did,” said Van Gytenbeek. “They were a real good team. Every time we had a lull in the game we knew we could bounce back."
A layup by Watts gave the Falcons a 52-50 lead with 1:02 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Abby Wrede made her only basket of the game, a 3-pointer from the corner, to push Creek ahead, 53-52, with 48.4 seconds to play.
Highlands Ranch missed two shots from inside the lane then turned the ball over and had to start fouling. However, the team had committed only two fouls heading into the last 43 seconds.
Ranch finally was whistled for its seventh foul to put Creek in a bonus free throw situation, but Van Gytenbeek, the leading scorer in the game with 21 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one situation and Kasey Neubert pulled down the rebound.
After a timeout, Jamie Bain dribbled the ball up court and forced a shot in heavy traffic. The ball ended up with Neubert, who couldn't get the rebound to drop into the basket as the final buzzer sounded.
Four of the six players who played for Ranch in the semifinal game were seniors and the Falcons had the most experienced players in the Final Four.
Seniors Bain and Wright each had 13 points to pace the Falcons, while sophomore Muma finished with 10 points. Neubert, the Falcons' Hawaii-bound senior leader during the season with averages of 16.4 points and 10.7 rebounds, had seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
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