BROOMFIELD – The Legacy High School girls basketball team has had to overcome a lot of adversity this season, which made Tuesday's win fitting.
Playing without one of their best player's, the seventh-seeded Lightning had to rally from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat No. 10 Dakota Ridge 63-52 in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs.
"We fought through a lot of adversity," Legacy coach Craig Van Patten said. "Our backs were against the wall like they were all season and kids that don't usually step up for us did (Tuesday). Here we are in the playoffs and going on to the second round."
The defending champion Lightning played Tuesday's game without their leading scorer sophomore Courtney Smith. She came down hard in practice last week and suffered a cervical strain that puts her out for the rest of the postseason.
No doubt the absence of Smith hurt, as Dakota Ridge controlled the flow of the game and pushed its lead to 10 points early in the fourth. But Van Patten utilized his full-court press in the final quarter and the Lightning went on a 15-1 run to take complete control.
MacKenzie Neely scored a fast-break basket and Bree Paulson stole an inbounds pass and scored three points the old fashioned way to bring within two. However, the duo fouled out and senior Emily Lopez had to put the final touches on the rally.
She scored seven of her 14 points in the final four minutes to help the Lightning steal the victory.
"Our press and quickness really came together there at the end," senior Caitlin Smith said.
Now the Lightning must prepare for the always tough Denver East Angels, who were in attendance scouting their next foe.
The Angels swept the Denver Prep League and finished the regular season with a 19-4 record. This will be 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 Leagcy 50-46 in the title match.
"Tonight I'll start thinking about them," Van Patten said. "They are big inside and we are a little undersized with Courtney out. We just have to come and prepare for a physical game, hopefully we can do enough to win that game."
One thing is for sure the Lightning can't afford to come out slow like they did Tuesday night, Dakota Ridge starting the game on a 7-0 run and Legacy was facing a 16-12 deficit after the first quarter.
Legacy was able to battle back in the second and a 3-point play by Neely gave the Lightning a 25-20 advantage – but the Eagles rallied back and closed the half on an 11-point run.
Sydney Buchli was the catalyst, scoring 19 first-half points for the Eagles and closed the half by scoring nine of the team's final 11 points.
"She was unconscious in the first half," Van Patten said.
Caitlin Smith led the way for Legacy on Tuesday with 17 points, while Neely added 15.