AURORA | Woeful from the free throw line for three quarters, the Grandview girls basketball team made the big ones when they counted Tuesday night.
The top-seeded Wolves missed a stunning 22 free throws in their Class 5A Sweet 16 contest against visiting No. 5 seed Castle View — part of a 23-for-45 performance from the charity stripe — but finished 8-for-10 in the final 1:32 of the fourth quarter to seal a 61-49 victory that sent them to the Great 8 for the third straight season.
Freshman Michaela Onyenwere had nine of the free throw misses, but made all four of her shots in the final quarter and finished with a game-high 22 points and seniors Natalie Halbleib and Katie Cunningham added 19 and 13 points, respectively, as Grandview earned a trip to the Denver Coliseum on Thursday to face No. 2 Rampart.
“Credit to the kids; they made them when they absolutely needed them,” Wolves coach Josh Ulitzky said of the free throws. “Castle View is a great team and that’s probably the toughest five seed around. …I knew it was just going to be a battle. This game was the one I wasn’t sleeping so well because I knew what was looming.”
Grandview drew a 7 p.m. tip time on Thursday in the third of four Great 8 contests that also includes No. 1 Cherry Creek vs. No. 2 Poudre (4 p.m.), No. 6 Dakota Ridge vs. No. 1 Fossil Ridge (5:30 p.m.) and No. 1 Regis Jesuit — an 85-37 winner against Ralston Valley — vs. No. 2 Lakewood (8:30 p.m.)
For awhile, it looked like the struggles at the free throw line might catch up to the Wolves (23-2), who found themselves toe-to-toe with a worthy foe in the SaberCats (18-8), one of the better outfits from the rugged Continental League.
Ulitzky admitted the prospect of facing Castle View — or the Horizon team it beat in the second round — scared him greatly when he first saw the other teams seeded in the Kaye Garms Region along with his team.
Castle View displayed great depth as all 10 players who appeared in the game scored, got great play in the paint from 6-foot-3 Maya Brown (16 points) and surprised Grandview a bit by knocking down four 3-pointers in the first half.
“We weren’t expecting them to make all those threes because we were worried about the posts,” Halbleib said. “Their posts were tough, so we needed to knock them out and then get out on as many threes as we could.”
All that, combined with the Wolves’ 10-for-22 showing from the free throw line in the first two periods left it a one-point game in favor of Grandview at halftime. The SaberCats dominated the third quarter and led by four points late in the period, but Halbleib had a huge layin plus an and-one free throw to keep the Wolves within one.
Grandview took control quickly in the fourth quarter with a quick 5-0 burst on a layup by Cunningham and Halbleib’s fourth 3-pointer of the game made it 44-40 in favor of the Wolves that forced a Castle View time out.
“I felt like that was emotionally a tough thing for them and it was a huge lift for us, so I think the kids were pretty amped after that,” Ulitzky said.
Castle View got no closer than four points the rest of the way as Grandview’s defense tightened up and the Wolves salted the game away at the free throw line. Onyenwere finished 4-for-4 in the final minute and Cunningham and Halbleib each made a pair.
“I don’t know what was wrong (from the free throw line), but we made them at the end and pulled through,” said Onyenwere, who also had 12 rebounds. “It was a great team effort and now we’re going to the Great 8. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I’m glad I get to experience it with my team.”
In addition to advancing, Grandview seniors — Cunningham, Halbleib, Brittany Bender and Jen Jordan especially — wanted to get a win in the last home game they would play at the school.
“We definitely wanted to lave a legacy tonight, so we had to put it all out there,” Halbleib said.
Note: The team played without another senior, Denise Batiste, a reserve who had appeared in all 24 of the Wolves’ previous games. Batiste sat on the bench with a boot on her right foot.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasentinel. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(1) GRANDVIEW 61, (5) CASTLE VIEW 49
Score by quarters:
Castle View 13 15 12 9 — 49
Grandview 14 15 10 22 — 61
CASTLE VIEW (49)
Taylor Nynas 1 0-0 3, Jess McGovern 2 1-2 5, Amy Schmelzer 2 0-4 4, Kylie Minish 3 0-2 8, Maya Brown 5 6-6 16, Taylor Smith 2 0-1 5, Mikayla Gonzales 0 2-2 2, Savannah Heebner 1 0-0 2, Alyssa Purslow 1 0-0 3, Elle Gillen 0 1-2 1. Totals 17 10-19 49.
Jen Jordan 0 0-4 0, Michaela Onyenwere 7 8-17 22, Natalie Halbleib 5 5-7 19, Katie Cunningham 3 7-12 13, Brittany Bender 2 2-2 6, Kennede Brown 0 1-2 1, Cristina Salazar 0 0-1 0, Alexis Gregson-Hammond 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 23-45 61.
3-point field goals — Castle View (5): Kylie Minish 2, Taylor Nynas, Alyssa Purslow, Taylor Smith; Grandview (4): Natalie Halbleib 4. Total fouls — Castle View 30, Grandview 17. Fouled out — Castle View: Nynas. Technical fouls — None.