AURORA | Though a little too close for comfort at the end Saturday evening, the Rangeview boys basketball team did its part to set up a battle of undefeated Aurora teams with Regis Jesuit.
Regis Jesuit ended up with at two-point loss to Fossil Ridge to go into Tuesday’s meeting with one loss, but coach Shawn Palmer’s Rangeview team avoided that fate by making just enough plays in crunch time for a 59-55 at Cherokee Trail.
Senior EJ Reed scored 19 points, senior Tyrei Randall added 13 and senior Kris Hollins 12 for Rangeview, which never trailed and overcame 19 points from the Cougars’ David Thornton and 16 from Jaizec Lottie to join Eaglecrest (10-0) as Class 5A’s only unbeatens.
Palmer saw his team lose four straight coming out of winter break last season following a 6-1 start, but the Raiders have opened 2016 with an impressive win over then-No. 2 ThunderRidge (70-56) and followed that by topping coach Morgan Gregory’s talented Cherokee Trail team playing back-to-back after a Centennial League win over Smoky Hill on Friday.
“We took our lumps in this stretch last season, but it was good for us; we lost four in row and then won out until the playoffs,” Palmer said. “This is a more mature team with a little more leadership. With seven seniors, we’re more prepared for it.
“I didn’t expect us to run the table and win every game, but I expect us to be in every single one.”
Defense and uncommon depth (with 10 players getting regular action) give Palmer that sort of confidence.
Against Cherokee Trail (7-3), Randall ripped off seven straight points early to get Rangeview off to a fast start and the Raiders managed to build the lead to nine points by the end of the first half. The Cougars couldn’t get many shots to drop all night and needed Thornton to keep them in the game in the second period, as the senior scored 12 of his team’s 14 points in the period.
Rangeview tried to put it away in the third quarter with a burst that pushed the lead to 14 points when Hollins — who had struggled with his outside shot and was coming off a scoreless performance against ThunderRidge — drained back-to-back 3-pointers from the left wing.
“I was coming off a rough night against ThunderRidge, so I made sure I was getting under my shot this time,” said Hollins, who finished with a season-high in points.
Gregory felt the game beginning to slip away at that point, but saw Ronnie Barfield score four points in the closing 1:21 of the quarter as Cherokee Trail began to turn things around going into the final period.
“When Hollins hit a couple of threes and there was a feeling that we couldn’t get any calls or hit any shots, it could have gone away and it would have been easy to lose by 20 points,” Gregory said.
“We were right on the edge and we never went over, so I was proud of them…We fought and kept coming until the very, very end, but we dug too big of a hole against a really good team.”
The Cougars began to create turnovers and starting cutting into a deficit that sat at 12 points midway through the fourth quarter.
Lottie — who couldn’t get many shots to fall early and had just four points in the first half — finished with 10 points in the final quarter and scored many of those following turnovers.
Not allowing his team to get overtaken, Reed came up big in the fourth quarter with six points, including four straight in a particularly key stretch that also saw him earn a charge call against Thornton that fouled him out of the game.
“It got a little bit close, but we just had to stay focused and stay positive,” said Reed, who was credited with seven rebounds and three steals. “They are really fast and athletic, so we had to take a step back and do it together as a team.”
Cherokee Trail got within 55-50 with 1:15 remaining, but Randall hit an acrobatic layup for just his second field goal since the opening portion of the first quarter and then knocked down two free throws for a 59-52 lead with 22.3 seconds left.
KJ Sapp hit his only basket of the night for the Cougars, a 3-pointer, with 15.2 seconds left to make it a four-point game, but Cherokee Trail couldn’t get any more in a wild closing sequence.
“I don’t think we looked past CT — we all know how good and talented they are — but sometimes in a stretch like this, you can’t play your best all the time,” Palmer said. “In the first quarter against ThunderRidge we couldn’t miss, but then we created our own adversity tonight with turnovers.
“We’re going to have to play better, but defense travels and I believe that if we can be the best defensive team, we will be the best team.”
Gregory is relieved to have non-league play behind his team — with the exception of a Feb. 1 game against Brighton at the Pepsi Center — and is looking forward to returning to the familiar routine of the Centennial League season.
It was also a difficult week for the team emotionally, as junior Ian Kelly’s father passed away after a battle with cancer.
“It’s been a tough week; we were better today, but Wednesday (in a loss to Cherry Creek) we were a wreck,” Gregory said. “It will be nice to be into the routine of the league and know what you have to get done and go against teams that know each other so well.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
RANGEVIEW 59, CHEROKEE TRAIL 55
Score by quarters:
Rangeview 13 18 14 14 — 59
Cher. Trail 8 14 12 21 — 55
Jalen Guidry 1 2-4 4, Tyrei Randall 5 2-2 13, Kris Hollins 5 0-0 12, Elijah Blake 1 3-3 5, EJ Reed 6 7-8 19, Matthew Johnson 0 2-2 2, Marquis Kraemer 0 0-0 0, Stacie Reed 0 0-0 0, Calvin Collins 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 16-19 59.
CHEROKEE TRAIL (55)
Jaizec Lottie 6 4-7 16, KJ Sapp 1 3-4 6, David Thornton 7 4-4 19, Ronnie Barfield 2 1-3 5, Ian Kelly 3 0-0 6, Deon Barfield 0 1-3 1, Isiah Gilbert 1 0-0 2, Tyson Rodgers 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 13-21 55.
3-point field goals — Rangeview (3): Kris Hollins 2, Tyrei Randall; Cherokee Trail (2): KJ Sapp, David Thornton. Total fouls — Rangeview 19, Cherokee Trail 19. Fouled out — Rangeview: Marquis Kraemer; Cherokee Trail: Thornton. Technical fouls — None.