Weber State-bound Braxton a force inside

Highlands Ranch senior dominates the post for Falcons

Jim Benton
ThunderRidge’s Mitch Bloom (4) tries to prevent Highlands Ranch center Zach Braxton (34) from getting a pass during a Feb. 1 game won 63-49 by the Falcons. Braxton had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
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Zach Braxton is a 6-foot-9, 245-pound dominating post player for the Highlands Ranch boys basketball team.

A force inside, he’s one of the reasons the Falcons are challenging for the Continental League title.

Braxton, a senior who is bound for Weber State in Utah, is averaging a double-double this season, scoring 18.9 points and grabbing 13.3 rebounds a game.

He had 17 points, 10 rebounds, three blocked shots and five assists in Highlands Ranch’s 66-49 win over ThunderRidge on Feb. 1 in the Falcons’ gym.

ThunderRidge used several players, double teams and physical play to try to neutralize Braxton but nothing worked.

“The games are physical and when you are this big, people like to beat on you,” said Braxton. “You just have to keep your composure so you don’t get a technical or something like that, play through it and use your teammates when you don’t have anything.

“I feel that involving my teammates is the best way to beat a double team. We get open threes and open cuts to the basket and that’s a great way to get points on the board.”
Both Falcons coach Bob Caton and ThunderRidge mentor Joe Ortiz lauded Braxton who had suffered from a knee ligament irritation as a youth and took ballet to help his agility.

“He’s a very strong player,” said Caton. “He’s such a great person and he’s so coachable. He does everything you ask him to do.

“He gets open and we’ve got guys getting him the ball. That’s what it’s all about, him getting open and other guys making passes to him. He sees the floor really well for a big kid. He has really let the game slow down, he looks for the open man.”
Ortiz declared that Braxton is an All-State player.

“Braxton is the best post player in the state,” he said. “We didn’t have any answers for him. We have some big kids with some size but the biggest factor is he outweighs our bigs by 50 pounds. He’s extremely skilled. He’s a tremendous player.”

Highlands Ranch took charge early against ThunderRidge and never trailed after the first four minutes of the game.

The Falcons shot 58 percent from the field and were 24 of 35 from the foul line. ThunderRidge attempted only 15 free throws in the game, making 12 of them.

“We made some dumb fouls,” admitted Ortiz. “We made four illegal screens. We made some dumb defensive fouls. They were in the double bonus (from) the first quarter (on). We fouled them a lot and we were in foul trouble trying to play all sorts of guys against Braxton. He was a horse.”

Braxton missed his first five free throw attempts but finished the game 9-for-16 at the strike.

“I don’t know what it was, I wasn’t nervous,” said Braxton about his accuracy at free throw line. “They just weren’t falling but as soon as they started to go, it got easier and I started to make them.”

Ryley Stewart, a 6-4 transfer from Douglas County, topped the Falcons with 18 points and handed out four assists. Evan Motlong had 10 points, a team-high six assists and four steals. Keith Coleman also had 10 points for Highlands Ranch.

“We wanted to get good shots, we got good positioning and they were fouling us,” said Caton. “There were a few early that didn’t fall but we shot free throws pretty good.
“It was a great team effort. Eric Dynes is in there getting rebounds (five) and loose balls, Cole (Sundlof) comes off the bench and Sullie (Patrick Sullivan) comes off the bench and hits a big-time three. We’re playing pretty good basketball but all it means is we have to get ready for the next game.”

Highlands Ranch (12-5, 5-0 Continental) played at Regis Jesuit Feb. 4 before hosting Rock Canyon in a Feb. 7 contest.

“We want to win this league pretty bad,” said Braxton. “Our defense is starting to come together, everybody is starting to play for the team and it’s starting to look good for us.”

ThunderRidge was led by Elias Tiedgen’s game-high 20 points against Highlands Ranch. The Grizzlies (10-7, 3-2) entertained Heritage Feb. 4 and Mountain Vista Feb. 7.
“I still believe in our kids,” said Ortiz.