Lady Tigers knock off 5A power Highlands Ranch
Falcons make impressive second half run that falls short
LAKEWOOD - Revenge is a dish that Mackenzie Forrest likes to serve up by raining jump shots all over defenders.
The Lakewood sophomore is still an underclassman, yet she remembers all too well the pain that she and her teammates suffered while being eliminated by Highlands Ranch during the Sweet 16 of last year's state tournament.
Fast forward 361 days later and the tables have turned as the No. 2 Tigers beat the No. 3 Falcons 62-52 in the Sweet 16 round of the 5A state tournament Tuesday at Lakewood High School.
Lakewood's girls finally overcame the team that eliminated them from the playoffs two of the last three years — and they made a statement in the process.
“We remember them beating us at this point last season, and we didn't want to feel like that again,” Forrest said. “We have used that game not only as motivation tonight but it has motivated us all season.”
The Tigers overwhelmed Highlands Ranch as times during the contest, like when they outscored the Falcons 22-7 in the second quarter.
But it was Highlands Ranch who overcame a big deficit, coming all the way back, down 11 points at halftime and nearly ripping the Tigers' hearts out.
Highlands Ranch tied the game 51-51 with just three minutes left in the contest, showing the heart of champion.
The Falcons didn't play their best at times, but they chipped away at the Tigers' lead and slowly but surely they positioned themselves to steal a game, behind senior Ciera Morgan who hit three three-pointers to get her team back into contention.
Morgan finished the game with 13 points and Logan Opheim led the Falcons with 15 point.
“Coach told us at halftime that they were going to come out and give us everything they had to try and get back into this game,” Lakewood senior Jessica Brooks said. “We knew it would be a fight until the very end.”
But Lakewood's best players played their best basketball down the stretch, getting a big-time effort from Forrest who had a game-high 24 points and five steals, with 11 of those points coming in the final quarter.
In addition, Brooks, had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and controlled the paint for much of the contest, and sophomore McKenna Bishop recorded 18 points and 12 rebounds.
“We are a team that is not afraid to lose,” Lakewood head coach Chris Poisson said. “And we are just trying to do what we do best and play to win. We let them back in it tonight but that is also a really good team we played.”
But don't feel too bad for Highlands Ranch, who has won seven state titles since 2000. They will return much of the core of their team next season and are expected to again be a title contender.
“I am proud of everything our girls accomplished this season,” Highlands Ranch assistant coach John Steck said. “We lost some girls this season, we are young, so I am still proud of our group and excited about the future.”
For Lakewood, Tuesday's big win was a culmination of a process that started nearly five seasons ago after Poisson took over as head coach of the Tigers.
Under Poisson Lakewood went from a three win team five seasons ago, to nine wins, to 16 wins, to 21 wins last season and now all the way to their 26-1 record this season (16-0 in 5A Jeffco).
But while the Tigers have plenty to be proud of they will have to quickly regroup as they prepare to face top-ranked Regis Jesuit, who is a true powerhouse to say the least, and the reigning 5A state champions.
The Raiders (23-2) are undefeated in Colorado this season losing only twice to two out of state opponents. They also just throttled No. 5 Ralston Valley 85-37 on Tuesday.
Lakewood will play Regis Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the Denver Coliseum.