Defending-champion Lightning knocked out

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DENVER - The Legacy Lightning won’t be able to repeat as state champions.

The seventh-seeded Lightning had its season come to an end on Friday falling to No. 2 Denver East 64-44 in the second round of the Class 5A girls state playoffs.

Legacy won the state title last season, topping Monarch in the title game 58-51. However, the Lightning struggled this season with injuries and a shortened bench. And Friday night it just got worst for the shorthanded squad.

The Lightning, who were playing the game without their leading scorer Courtney Smith, found life even more difficult on Friday when senior Emiley Lopez got hurt in the first half and had to miss the rest of the game.

“Losing your senior point guard, it’s pretty hard to overcome something like that,” Legacy coach Craig Van Patten said. “

For the first two quarters Legacy stayed with the much deeper Denver East squad trailing only 26-20 at the half, but in the second half the Angels broke loose.

Denver East opened the half on a 7-0 run and forced the Lightning into three turnovers to start the half. Bree Paulson stopped the bleeding with a trey, and baskets by Caitlyn Smith and MacKenzie Neely brought Legacy within eight. However, the Angels closed the third quarter on a 7-2 run to push their lead to 46-33 going into the fourth.

With the win, Denver East extended its winning streak to 12 games and hasn’t lost since Jan. 8 at Highlands Ranch. 

Caitlin Smith led the Lightning with 16 points, while Neely added 12 and Paulson chipped in 10.

Denver East’s Michelle Cox led all scorers with 17 points, while Frannie Sally added 15.

This was the third time in four years the two squads have faced off in the playoffs. Last season the two met in the second round and Lightning won 74-70, while two seasons ago the Angels beat Legacy 50-46 in the title match.

The Lightning finished the season 12-13 overall, and will lose Caitlyn Smith, Neely, Lopez and Shayna Kuyper, who are all graduating this season.

Caitlyn Smith was Legacy’s leading rebounder this season with 9.0 rebounds a game to go with 10.4 points. Her younger sister, Courtney Smith couldn’t play in the playoffs after suffering a cervical strain in practice the week before the playoffs started.

“We had a lot of adversity and injuries,” Van Patten said. “The season didn’t go as we planned, but (the girls) never gave up.”

Courtney Smith was the Lightning leading scorer this season with 13.3 points, she also grabbed 7.5 rebounds a game. Paulson, who is also a sophomore, also averaged 9.0 points for Legacy.

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