DENVER | In the span of two series in a pivotal stage of its intense Class 6A Great 8 contest against Denver East, the Smoky Hill boys basketball team lost both of its seniors.

The fifth-seeded Buffaloes had just gained enough traction to finally push in front of the fourth-seeded Angels — who had enjoyed a lead as large as 12 points in the third quarter — and take a five-point lead with just six minutes remaining.

A trip to the program’s first Final Four since 2006 seemed a real possibility for coach Anthony Hardin’s Smoky Hill team until leading scorer Rickey Mitchell fouled out on defense and reserve Jayson Lewis went down with an ankle injury shortly thereafter.

Lewis returned in limited capacity, but it mostly left a talented, but state-inexperienced lineup that included two freshmen and a sophomore to try to close the game out. Instead, Denver East took advantage of the situation to take the lead and though the Buffaloes continued to battle, they fell 77-71 in a highly-entertaining contest played in front of a significant crowd that took in the contest despite a morning tip-off.

“We had the play where Rickey fouled and on the very next possession, Jayson sprained his ankle, so we had to close out the game with young guys,” Hardin said. “But those guys played all year and they were ready to play. We’ll take it, we just didn’t come up on the right end of the score.”

Smoky Hill took its first Colorado loss against a team not in the Centennial League and finished the season 20-6. Two of the Buffaloes’ losses came out of state, two to Eaglecrest and one to Grandview during the regular season.

Mitchell — 6A’s No. 2 leading scorer — had been the Buffaloes’ closer during the season when they had a lead, but he didn’t get the chance after he was called for his fifth foul with 5:55 remaining and finished with 17 points on the night.

Freshman Kai McGrew added 16 points, junior Ray Gasaway had 13 and Lewis nine for Smoky Hill.

Denver East star D’Audre Samuels also fouled out of the game with 2:38 left, but had helped the Angels take a three-point lead at that point. Samuels finished 19 points as one of four players in double figures for Denver East, which will face No. 1 Mountain Vista in the Final Four March 10.

The Buffaloes got down by as many as 11 points in the opening half — but worked it down to a five-point deficit at halftime and would have been closer if not for a buzzer-beating desperation 3-pointer — and watched the deficit grow to 12 in the late stages of the third quarter.

But instead of letting the Angels run away with it Smoky Hill reeled Denver East back in with back-to-back 3-pointers from Mitchell, another from Lewis and an inside basket from McGrew to close the period with just a three-point deficit.

“Nobody’s blow us out all year,” Hardin said. “We’re always going to be able to defend you and speed up the game and find a way to fight and give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

The Buffaloes did just that with an 11-3 burst to start the fourth quarter, which started with a power dunk from McGrew, continued with a pair of hoops by Gasaway, a 3-pointer by freshman Carter Basquez and two free throws from McGrew to make it 64-59 in Smoky Hill’s favor with 6:13 remaining.

Mitchell fouled on Denver East’s next trip down the floor, however, and the Angels countered with an 8-0 to take a lead that it would hold the rest of the way. The Buffaloes made some charges as Basquez, McGrew (who came a rebound shy of a double-double) and Lewis put points on the board, but they didn’t make enough plays in crunch time.

“We were still feeling confident and had trust in each other (after losing Mitchell),” sophomore guard Lorenzo Contreras said. “We thought we were going to come out victorious. Me personally, I had a rough end to the game, which was uncharacteristic.

“But we’re taking it as a learning experience because we only have two seniors, so we’re basically going to have the same team next year. It was a little bit of what we are going to see next year, so we just need to be ready to fill those roles when our seniors leave.”

Hardin was encouraged by what he saw from his primarily young group and believes it could definitely pay dividends in the future.

“There’s no replicating this environment and playing in games like that that matter,” Hardin said. “It’s not promised to you, you have to play hard and do things the right way or you don’t make it to this point. They saw what it took to get here and hopefully we can get back here and win a few more games at some point.”

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports


March 4 at Denver Coliseum

(4) DENVER EAST 77, (5) SMOKY HILL (71)

Score by quarters:

Smoky Hill    17  20  16  18 — 71

Denver East  21  21  14  21 — 77


Carter Basquez 3 0-0 7, Rickey Mitchell 6 3-4 17, Lorenzo Contreras 1 0-0 2, Ray Gasaway 5 2-2 13, Kai McGrew 6 4-4 16, Jayson Lewis 3 1-2 9, Kaylan Graham 1 1-2 3, Kevin Sylla 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 11-14 71.


Jack Greenwood 4 6-8 16, Sam Scott 1 0-0 2, Gil Gonzalez 4 3-6 11, D’Aundre Samuels 8 3-3 19, Austin Mohr 8 2-2 21, Lance Price 2 0-0 5, Ryan Kelly 1 0-0 3, MJ Dailey 0 0-0 0, Terrance Morgan 0 0-0 0. Totals 28 14-19 77.

3-point field goals — Smoky Hill (6): Rickey Mitchell 2, Jayson Lewis 2, Carter Basquez, Ray Gasaway. Denver East (7): Austin Mohr 3, Jack Greenwood 2, Ryan Kelly, Lance Price. Total fouls — Smoky Hill 18, Denver East 16. Fouled outSmoky Hill: Mitchell. Denver East: Samuels. Technical fouls — None.

Courtney Oakes is sports Editor and photographer with Sentinel Colorado. A Denver East High School alum. He came to the Sentinel in 2001 and since then has received a number of professional awards from...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *