DENVER | Some members of the Grandview girls basketball team hobbled off the Denver Coliseum floor Thursday afternoon, while others skipped.
All had smiles on their faces, however, as the top-seeded Wolves had just secured the program’s first-ever trip to the Class 5A state semifinals with a 55-38 Great 8 victory over No. 3 Chaparral.
It was a stark contrast to 369 days earlier, when Grandview made the same walk, but on the wrong end of a 23-point loss to Highlands Ranch.
This time, senior Adaeze Obinnah bounced back from an early knee injury to score 16 points, junior Natalie Halbleib scored 10 and junior Katie Cunningham added nine for 24-2 Grandview, which will head to the Coors Events Center in Boulder on March 14 to face Aurora’s other top seed, Regis Jesuit.
“We had a goal from that moment last year that we lost that we had to get back here,” said senior Natasha Edge, who limped off the floor with a hip injury.
“We came out and played hard all 32 minutes, so I’m so proud of my team,” she added. “Everybody did their job and we played so well.”
The Wolves put the memory of last season’s 70-47 loss to Highlands Ranch in the past from the opening tip-off against Chaparral, a team they’d lost to in each of the previous two regular seasons.
Playing the kind of pressure defense that had produced routs of Chatfield and Rock Canyon in the previous two rounds, Grandview forced the Wolverines into eight turnovers in the first quarter and held them scoreless for a six-minute stretch to take a 12-6 lead after one quarter.
The Wolves had a slight scare, as Obinnah banged up her troublesome left knee midway through the opening period. The physical senior post player limped off to the bench, put on a brace and was able to get back on the floor three minutes later.
With the 5-foot-11 Cunningham’s length and tenacity spearheading Grandview’s extended pressure, the Wolves netted five more turnovers in the second quarter and pushed out to a 30-17 lead at halftime.
“The kids played very disciplined and did what we asked them to do, so that was great to see,” Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky said.
“Defense is what we try to hang our hat on for sure. We thought we would be able to do some things against them and the kids executed the game plan. …Katie’s such a weapon at the top and it makes me look like I know what I’m doing.”
The Wolves opened the third quarter intent on building the lead and did so by pounding the ball inside, with Obinnah ripping off her team’s first seven points of the period on three layups and a free throw to up the edge to 18 points early in the quarter.
Chaparral — which had just one player in double figures with Katie Longwell’s 11 points — made a slight run late in the third quarter courtesy of a bout of Grandview sloppiness with the ball, but never got closer than 11 points.
Halbleib had seven points in a 9-1 Wolves’ run that made it 49-28 with 4 minutes remaining and all but sealed the outcome.
Even in the final seconds, with the game well in the hand, Grandview’s veteran players kept a businesslike demeanor until the clock ran out.
“We didn’t want to celebrate until we knew it was over,” senior Erin Kemp said. “We were playing a good team and we wanted to bring it until it was over. We’re making history and it feels so good.”
To take the next historic step and reach their first state championship game, the Wolves have to get past Regis Jesuit (24-2), which cruised past third-seeded Horizon 55-42 in another Great 8 contest.
The two Aurora powers met on Jan. 12 and Grandview had a good opportunity to win on the Raiders’ home floor, but faltered on some key possessions in crunch time and wound up on the short end of a 59-53 defeat.
“The last game against them, we turned the ball over a couple of times and now we know how to adjust to that,” Cunningham said. “We’ve been working on it, so we’re definitely ready to play them again.”
Top seeds Highlands Ranch and Arapahoe meet in the other semifinal.
The Wolves, who split two games with Arapahoe in Centennial League play and have incentive because of the loss to Highlands Ranch last season, hope to be on the Coors Events Center floor opposite either one of them on March 16.
“The championship game is so close, I can almost taste it,” Edge said. “We’ve got a week to get healthy and get ready. We’re not going to let up know, we’re going to go harder than we have before.”
Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555
(1) GRANDVIEW 55, (3) CHAPARRAL 38
Score by quarters:
Chaparral 6 11 10 11 — 38
Grandview 12 18 10 15 — 55
Kyleigh Rees 2 0-0 5, Katrina Bacoucin 2 4-6 8, Natalie Baker 0 0-0 0, Katie Longwell 4 2-2 11, Dayton DeMaras 3 0-0 7, Kendall Heitmeier 2 3-5 7, Morgan Murphy 0 0-0 0, Katie Sauvageau 0 0-0 0, Margo Bess 0 0-0 0, Erin Nelson 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 9-13 38.
Natalie Halbleib 4 0-1 10, Natasha Edge 3 1-2 7, Katie Cunningham 3 3-4 9, Adaeze Obinnah 7 2-6 16, Sedia Olsen 3 0-1 6, Brooke Genovese 0 4-4 4, Erin Kemp 1 0-1 3, Brittany Bender 0 0-0 0, Jen Jordan 0 0-0 0, Courtney Mickles 0 0-0 0, Kayla Vallin 0 0-0 0, Chantal Jones 0 0-0 0. 21 10-19 55.
3-point field goals — Chaparral (3): Dayton DeMaras, Katie Longwell, Kyleigh Rees; Grandview (3): Natalie Halbleib 2, Erin Kemp. Total fouls — Chaparral 19, Grandview 17. Fouled out — Chaparral: Natalie Baker. Technical fouls — None.