HIGHLANDS RANCH – The game was sold out hours before the opening tip and a line of people waiting to get into the Mountain Vista gym were told 75 minutes before the start that nobody else would be admitted.
People were invited to watch the game on a big television screen in an adjacent lunchroom but a few fans still decided to leave.
Too bad because they missed an entertaining game between unbeaten and No. 2 ranked Mountain Vista and No. 3 ThunderRidge.
The overflow crowd watched Mountain Vista win its 18th game of the year and take control of the Continental League title chase with an 78-72 overtime victory over the Grizzlies, who lost for the first time in league play.
Mountain Vista is 7—0 in Continental League action with four games remaining in the league season. ThunderRidge, 14-5 overall, is now 5-1 in league play and tied for second with Regis Jesuit.
The game had more momentum changes than tree leaves in the fall.
After a close first quarter, Mountain Vista built a seven-point lead in the second stanza and ran off 11 straight points in the third quarter to go ahead 52-44 but the visitors kept coming back.
The Golden Eagles led 60-55 with 2:53 remaining in regulation but Joe Marucci, a 6-foot senior, scored the last six points for ThunderRidge as he worked for shots inside. His layup tied the game at 63-all with 34 seconds to play.
Mountain Vista had a chance to win in regulation but Jake Pemberton’s jumper was off the mark and Mitch Carter could not connect on a follow shot.
Pemberton and Elijah Valdez got the Golden Eagles off to a fast start with the first two baskets in overtime. ThunderRidge missed its first four shots in the extra session and turned the ball over once as the Golden Eagles went ahead by five points.
“They had a lot of momentum going into overtime,” said Valdez who had eight of his 19 points in the four-minute overtime. “Basketball is a game of momentum and it is pretty difficult to regain that momentum but as soon as we got it going in overtime, we had the game.
“I felt pretty good in overtime. It was great but I couldn’t of had a better team behind me. All I can say is 18-0.”
Mountain Vista coach Bob Wood admitted the buckets by Pemberton and Valdez were keys in the OT.
“It was really nice to get that first basket,” he said. “I know they did a study on that and most of the time if you get the first basket in overtime you win.
“We got the first two and then we made enough free throws and did enough things right to put it away.”
Mountain Vista made four of six free throws and Valdez cashed in a layup in the final 53 seconds to seal the win.
“It was a great game,” said Wood. “I though both teams played well. What I consider their three best players, Marucci, Rusk (Zach) and Howell (Peter), all played well. We won the game with those guys playing well so that says a lot.”
Two Mountain Vista starters, Valdez and Amir Qadri, picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter but neither fouled out.
“It was like a grab bag on the bench,” said Wood. “We had so many guys with three and four fouls. We survived. Elijah played 12 minutes with four fouls and that was great.”
Pemberton took game scoring honors with 27 points. Damani Respass, who came off the bench to relieve Valdez and Qadri, contributed 13 points.
“It might have been a great game for the fans, but not a great game to lose,” ThunderRidge coach Joe Ortiz said. “It was a well played game but our kids are crying and it’s hard for me to grab solace for that.
“I told them I love them and everything is still in front of us. There’s no doubt, they wanted this game bad. The first thing I told them was if we won the game, it doesn’t mean the state championship. If we lost the game, it doesn’t mean we lost it (state championship). It doesn’t mean anything other than we have to learn from it and grow.”
Marucci scored 20 of his team-high 25 points in the second half for ThunderRidge who was effective working the ball inside late in the fourth quarter.
Rusk finished with 20 points, 15 coming in the first half and Howell had 14 points.
“We didn’t finish inside early,” said Ortiz. “Joe is a great competitor and showed his true colors. At the end of the game the urgency is so much higher so we finished inside better. Joe made some great takes with the urgency higher.”