ThunderRidge repeats as 5A State Champions

A second-half comeback sealed the victory over Fossil Ridge

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ThunderRidge’s dressing room was quiet at halftime after a slow start in the Class 5A boys state championship basketball game against Fossil Ridge on March 12 at the Denver Coliseum.

However, the top-seeded Grizzlies made plenty of noise in the second half like the team had been doing all season to pull out a 58-49 victory, taking home their second straight state championship hardware.

It was the school’s fourth state boys basketball title as the Grizzlies finished the season with a 26-2 record, with the team's comeback magic helping in several games.

ThunderRidge fell behind 12-0 at the start against hot shooting Fossil Ridge and trailed 30-22 at the halftime intermission. 

“The players were quiet at half,” said ThunderRidge Coach Joe Ortiz. “They are usually shouting and chattering. We talked about discipline, we talked about toughness. We’ve been there many times. We know what we can do. We did it.”

ThunderRidge opened the third quarter with a 12-0 run to grab a 34-30 lead and then had a 14-4 spurt to take a 53-41 lead into the final two minutes of the game.

“We’ve been down a bunch of times and it says a lot about our resilience and character,” Ortiz said. “It also says that we’re not perfect. People exposed us. We’ve had our flaws shown in the tournament and during the year, but our strengths showed. Not just in this game but the first two rounds. Our strength in the second half showed, that’s our strength, our heart, our fight, our toughness, our depth and our heart. I’m super proud. There were several times this year we could have quit. These guys didn’t quit and deserve the state title.”

Andrew Crawford, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, had 16 points to lead the way against Fossil Ridge. Zach Keller, the Grizzlies 6-9 senior, scored 13 points. Senior Joey Billelo, playing despite suffering from food poising, added 11 points and senior Jackson Brennan had 10 points.

Brock Mishak of Fossil Ridge took game scoring honors with 25 points but the Sabercats, who shot at a 60% clip in the first half, cooled off and hit 41.9% of their field goal attempts for the game.

“It feels amazing to win the state championship,” said Crawford. “Back to back is crazy. Coach Ortiz tells us there is no pressure when we go out. We just have to show we are number one and the best in the state. They (Fossil Ridge) came out firing but we’ve been down all year and we find a way to win."

In the semi-finals on March 11, ThunderRidge came back to get past Denver East, 55-54, and Fossil Ridge advanced with a 65-56 triumph over Chaparral.

Keller scored on a tip-in which had admitted went off an opponents’s hand with 29.8 seconds remaining to give the Grizzlies the win.

East couldn’t get anything going offensively and Quis Davis’ desperate 3-point attempt fell short at the final buzzer.

ThunderRidge was eight points behind early in the fourth quarter but with the help of Crawford, crawled back into the contest.

“We had to match their momentum to get back in the game,” said Ortiz. “We got the momentum flipped and did a good job of changing the game. Zach’s play was phenomenal and that was all heart.”

Keller wound up with 19 points, Crawford had 15 andBillelo added 10.

“We just came out and played our game,” said Keller.

Fossil Ridge went on a 14-2 run at the end of the third and start of the fourth periods to take control against Chaparral, the only Colorado team to beat ThunderRidge this season.

The Sabercats dominated inside in the fourth quarter with a 26-10 scoring edge on points in the paint during the finalperiod.

Nick Randall paced Fossil Ridge with a game-high 25 points. Guard Luke Williams had 21 points for Chap while Bennett Pegues and Joel Speckman each had 10 markers for the Wolverines which finished the season with a 21-5 record.

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