Cherry Creek junior guard Jana Van Gytenbeek and the rest of the Bruins were smiling and celebrating on March 9 at the Denver Coliseum.
The Bruins defeated two-time defending champion Grandview, 51-49, to win the Class 5A girls state basketball championship game when Van Gytenbeek bounced a running layup in off the glass with 3.8 seconds remaining.
Creek has won 206 state titles in all sports but Van Gytenbeek's shot lifted the Bruins to their first girls state basketball championship. It was the second win for the team over Centennial League rival Grandview in three games this season.
“Oh, I knew it was in,” joked Van Gytenbeek of her last-second shot. “We had to stall for the last 20 seconds so we could get the last shot.
"It just feels good to win a state championship. It didn't matter who hit that shot.”
First-year Creek coach Clint Evans told the 5-foot-7 Van Gytenbeek to attack for the final shot in regulation.
“I still don't know how she made the last shot,” Evans said. “She really didn't play great until the last four minutes. Then you could see how awesome she is.
“Every big game we've had, Jana shows up. She is the best big-game player I've ever seen. She did it when we needed it. Jana did what your star player is supposed to do. She took the last shot.”
Cherry Creek (24-4) had only three players score in the game, with Van Gytenbeek scoring a game-high 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Kacee Kyle had 21 points and 6-3 junior Cali Clark added seven points and seven rebounds.
Grandview appeared ready to pull away several times but the Bruins hung around.
“We said at halftime that we always make runs,” said Evans. “We didn't make our run until the last three or four minutes. We have a lot of firepower and we can heat up real quick. We've said it all year, `one team, one goal, we're going to find a way.'”
Grandview led 47-40 with 3:08 remaining in the game when the Wolves slowed the pace but Van Gytenbeek scored the seven of the Bruins' final 11 points and Kyle had four points.
Kyle tied the game at 49 with 43.4 seconds to play but missed a free throw on her attempt at a three-point play. However, Bella Sparaco grabbed the rebound for the Bruins to set up the chance to go for the final shot and the game-winner.
Kyle was "awesome," according to Evans.
The 5-8 sophomore scored 10 of the Bruins' 14 points in the second quarter.
“I came into the game more energized,” said Kyle. “I knew I hadn't played my best game and I hadn't hit shots. I had to pick it up. We had to come out and finish our one goal.
“I had total faith in my team. I'm so excited. Hard work pays off, doesn't it? Jana came up to me and she yelled at me, `We made history,' and we definitely did. I'm just proud to be a Bruin and make that happen.”
In the March 7 semifinals, Creek hit 10 3-point baskets in the second half to notch another comeback victory by eliminating top-seeded Highlands Ranch, 53-52.
The Falcons had saddled Creek with two losses earlier in the season but failed to make it three in a row despite taking a 29-20 lead early in the third quarter.
“We got together as a team and knew we had to make 3-pointers to get back into the game, and that's what we did,” said Van Gytenbeek. “They were a real good team. Every time we had a lull in the game we knew we could bounce back. We all knew we had a chance. We had lost to them twice and the third time was a charm. It's hard to beat a team three times.”
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