LITTLETON — Ralston Valley is two steps away from winning the Class 5A Jeffco League boys basketball title.
The Mustangs (14-6, 5-0 in 5A Jeffco) took sole possession of first place in the conference Feb. 11 with a 65-59 road victory against Chatfield (11-8, 4-1).
“I know we are in the driver’s seat now if you want to call it that,” Ralston Valley coach Chris Braketa said. “Every game people are going to come out and play us tough because we are in the driver’s seat. We don’t want to look toward the end. Just trust the process we’ve been building.”
Ralston Valley built an impressive 24-point lead after an 18-0 run to start the second quarter. The Mustangs’ biggest lead was 35-11 with 3 minutes left before halftime. Junior Josh Rillos drained a 3-pointer to put Ralston Valley in control during the biggest conference game of the season to this point.
Tanner Braketa — son of the Mustangs’ coach — continued his impressive freshman campaign pouring in 18 points in the first half. Braketa finished with a game-high 26 points, including six 3-pointers.
Chatfield battled back in the second half. Behind seniors Chase Miller, Christian Foutch and Marquis Jones the Chargers cut the Mustangs’ lead down to 63-59 in the final minute.
“They started going inside with Chase Miller and he started finishing around the rim,” Coach Braketa said. “Christian Foutch was finishing too and that gave them extra points in there. Marquis Jones went to the rim too. They did a great job coming back.”
Ralston Valley had the chance to get some insurance points with sophomore Jackson Hansen at the free-throw line with 16.9 seconds left and the Mustangs clinging to a 4-point lead. Hansen missed the first free throw which should have been a one-on-one, but nobody grabbed the loose ball and an official blew their whistle.
Chatfield coach Erik Buehler said that it wasn’t communicated between the officials if it was a one-on-one or two shots on Hansen’s trip to the foul line. It was the Chargers’ ninth foul of the half so it should have been one-on-one.
“I was telling my kids it was a one-and-one,” said Buehler, but the problem was the free throws were being taken at the other end of the court.
After the officials discussed the situation, it was ruled since all players thought it was two shots and nobody made a play on the loose ball that possession would go to the jump ball arrow. It was Ralston Valley’s turn on the possession arrow so the Mustangs got the ball under their basket.
“I’m not sure what happened,” Coach Braketa said of the bizarre trip to the free-throw line. “It was unfortunate, but it was the right call being a jump ball. It was in our favor with us getting possession.”
Ralston Valley iced the game seconds later with Hansen’s inbound pass to sophomore Logan Madden resulted in a layup to seal the win. It was the lone basket of the night for Madden off the bench.
“Logan made a hell of a read,” Coach Braketa said of Madden’s driving layup to push the lead back up to six points in the closing seconds. “It was a huge, huge bucket.”
Seniors Zach Akin (12 points) and Beau Wilken (9 points) were key for the Mustangs to hang on for the win. Akin’s 3-point play the old fashion way with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter ended a 5-minute scoring drought for Ralston Valley.
“That was big because he had been in foul trouble with four fouls,” Coach Braketa said of Akin. “We were trying to save him, but at that point you just have to go. That was a huge play with a great take and then knocking down free throws.”
It was the sixth straight win for Ralston Valley. The Mustangs close their regular season next week with home games against Columbine (Wednesday) and Bear Creek (Friday).
“We’ve got two more to go,” Tanner Braketa said of the Mustangs closing in on their first conference title since the 2019-20 season.
It was the second straight loss for Chatfield. The Chargers lost a non-league game against Cherry Creek last Saturday.
“I just told these guys if we are the team in the second half for three quarters it’s a completely different ballgame,” Buehler said. “We have just kind of have had slow starts all season. You can’t do that against a team of that quality. We just have to learn and adapt. If we do that in the playoff it will be a short postseason.”
Chatfield closes out the regular season on the road against Lakewood (Wednesday) and Arvada West (Friday).
“Our goal at the beginning of the season was to host a playoff game,” Buehler said. “That is still alive. If we take care of business next week we should achieve that goal.”
Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.