DENVER | The Regis Jesuit girls basketball team spent so much energy coming back from a large opening deficit in Friday afternoon’s Class 5A Great 8 contest against Highlands Ranch, it didn’t have enough left in the tank to finish.
The third-seeded Raiders lost gritty junior starter Grace Weigand to injury early and had to dig out of a hole as large as 13 points in the opening half — which they did, and even had a lead once in the fourth quarter — but the sixth-seeded Falcons scored the last six points of the game for a 51-44 victory.
Despite 22 points from junior Avery VanSickle, 11 from senior Jada Moore and eight from junior Samantha Jones, coach Carl Mattei’s Regis Jesuit team suffered its first loss of the season to a Colorado team and finished the season 21-5.
“The resilience we had, down 18-5, not playing too well and losing one of the best defensive players in the state and other kids step up,” Mattei said. “We fought back and it shows what the team is made of, they continue to just fight and fight. …It was just like you climb all the way to the top of the mountain and then the rocks give way.”
Highlands Ranch (21-5), which avenged an overtime loss to Regis Jesuit in a game that decided the Continental League championship, moved into an 8:30 p.m. March 12 Final Four contest against No. 2 Cherry Creek. The defending state champion Bruins topped No. 7 Ralston Valley 46-33.
Fourth-seeded Grandview kept Aurora alive in the Final Four with a 77-38 victory over No. 5 Fruita Monument to win the Rhonda Blanford-Green Region and a spot in the semifinals opposite No. 1 Valor Christian, a winner over No. 8 Fossil Ridge.
Things went poorly from the start for Regis Jesuit, which found itself down 18-5 after the opening quarter and facing the rest of the game without Weigand, who went down in agony with what appeared to be a serious knee injury with 17.6 seconds left in the period.
Despite that — and some shooting struggles from Moore, who was coming off a 31-point performance against Broomfield, and the shot-blocking ability of Highland Ranch defenders under the basket — the Raiders were slowly able to reel in their Continental League rivals as VanSickle warmed up.
VanSickle matched her season-low with five points in the Sweet 16 victory, but found the range in the Great 8 with 22 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second quarter that cut significantly into Regis Jesuit’s deficit.
Moore (who finished with 11) connected on a triple to beat the halftime horn and send the Raiders into the halftime down seven.
VanSickle hit her third 3-pointer to end the third quarter and her layup to open the fourth quarter actually pushed Regis Jesuit into the lead for the first time. VanSickle’s last 3-pointer pulled the Raiders within 45-44 with 1:14 remaining, but they failed to score the rest of the way.
“We were able to come all the way back, but that one-point lead is so fragile,” Mattei said. “Another bucket or two and we could have gotten it to four and then things might have been different, but we were just holding on. …Our shot selection at the end wasn’t great.”
Falcons’ standout Payton Muma, who had a team-high 18 points, finished 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 44.8 seconds to seal the result.
Mattei was still pleased in the progress of his team, which graduated two Division I athletes in Fran Belibi (now at Stanford) and Sidney Weigand (who plays lacrosse at West Point) — both nominees for the McDonald’s All-American Game, with Belibi actually selected — and a lack of experience on much of the roster.
The Raiders graduate Moore, a Kansas State signee, and reserve Colleen Mulbarger, but could have back the majority of the roster next season.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
(6) HIGHLANDS RANCH 51, (3) REGIS JESUIT 44
Score by quarters:
High. Ranch 18 8 10 15 — 51
Regis Jesuit 5 14 16 9 — 44
HIGHLANDS RANCH (51)
Payton Muma 5 8-10 18, Alex Pirag 2 2-2 6, Sarah Mitchell 4 2-2 10, Taylor Ray 3 1-2 9, Deidre Lassiter 1 0-0 2, Kacy Horton 2 0-0 6. Totals 17 13-16 51.
REGIS JESUIT (44)
Madden McHugh 0 0-0 0, Avery VanSickle 8 2-2 22, Grace Weigand 0 0-0 0, Jada Moore 4 1-8 11, Samantha Jones 4 0-0 8, Savitri Jackson 1 1-2 3. Totals 17 4-12 44.
3-point field goals — Highlands Ranch (4): Kacy Horton 2, Taylor Ray 2. Regis Jesuit (6): Avery VanSickle 4, Jada Moore 2. Total fouls — Highlands Ranch 7, Regis Jesuit 14. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — None.