BOULDER | The Coors Events Center has held its share of good and bad over the years for the Regis Jesuit girls basketball team.
It was more of the same for the Raiders in Thursday night’s all-Aurora Class 5A state semifinal against Grandview, but the end turned out to be just what they were looking for.
With the game in doubt in the closing minutes, junior Justine Hall cashed in a three-point play and another pair of free throws and Regis Jesuit escaped with a 46-43 victory on the campus of the University of Colorado that put coach Carl Mattei’s team in the state final for the fourth time in seven seasons in 5A.
“That was a battle, but that’s been these kids all year,” said Mattei, whose team has a chance to win its second 5A state title — and first since 2009 — when it takes on Continental League rival Highlands Ranch at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Coors Events Center. The Continental League is assured of its 12th 5A state championship in the past 14 seasons.
Hall scored a game-high 14 points, junior Kelsi Lidge added nine and junior Diani Akigbogun chipped in six for the 25-2 Raiders, who will face a Highlands Ranch team they beat 64-47 on Feb. 6. The Falcons (23-4) earned their title shot with a 64-54 victory over Arapahoe.
Akigbogun had been announced as Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year earlier in the day, but the 6-foot-1 forward had a nightmarish first quarter as she had just one basket and picked up her third foul with three seconds left in the period. The Raiders led 12-10, however.
Playing at the venue for the first time, Grandview got into the flow in the second quarter and pushed out to a lead as large as five points on senior Sedia Olsen’s second basket of the period. Reserve TaeKenya Cleveland confidently knocked down a pair of jump shots from the right wing for Regis Jesuit, which got back even at 22-22 at halftime.
The Raiders were fortunate to be even considering they had foul trouble and just six points combined from Hall and Akigbogun, their two leading scorers. A Hall 3-pointer gave Regis Jesuit a two-point advantage going into the fourth quarter of a game where the sense of urgency from the veteran Wolves became obvious.
“You could definitely feel it,” Hall said. “They were getting pressure and you could definitely feel all the emotions and everything. We just had to keep our heads in it.”
Sparked by senior reserve Brooke Genovese, Grandview forced several turnovers in the fourth quarter and got to the free throw line on several occasions in a tight ballgame.
A Natasha Edge free throw gave the Wolves a 39-38 lead with 2:23 remaining, but Akigbogun responded with a short jumper to put Regis Jesuit back in front. Hall then came up with a steal, made a layup and was fouled. She converted the free throw for a 43-39 advantage.
“When Justine came down and got the ball in her hands with an and-one, I thought the momentum shifted right there,” Mattei said. “We played some pretty good defense the rest of the way.”
Still, Akigbogun missed a chance to virtually put the game away on the next trip as she missed the front end of a 1-and-1 after rebounding an Adaeze Obinnah miss. The Wolves took advantage, as Natalie Halbeib’s third 3-pointer of the night made it 43-42 in the Raiders’ favor with 36 seconds left.
Sophomore point guard Jess Lewis, who played well in her semifinal debut with five points and four assists, drew the fifth foul on Edge on the next trip down the court and tacked on a free throw for a two-point Regis Jesuit edge. Katie Cunningham made one of two free throws to make it 44-43 and Olsen rebounded her miss on the second attempt to give Grandview the ball and a chance to take the lead with 10 seconds left.
The Wolves couldn’t execute their inbounds play, however, and Hall pounced on a loose ball and was fouled. She calmly made both of her free throws — part of a 5-for-5 showing at the line — to put the Raiders up three.
Regis Jesuit denied Halbleib a chance to make another 3-pointer and Erin Kemp’s contested triple fell short just before the final horn sounded.
“You always have to believe your team is going to win no matter what the score is, and that’s what we did,” Lewis said. “When we were down a little bit and things weren’t going so well, we stayed together. …We’ll enjoy this one until midnight and then get back to work.”
Mattei — who has continually called this season a “rebuilding year” after graduating Division I players Marquelle Dent and Katie Heckman and losing a few other key parts of his rotation — is looking forward to the last practice and last game of the year.
“We get to live for another day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, we’re here.”
Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555
(1) REGIS JESUIT 46, (1) GRANDVIEW 43
Score by quarters:
Grandview 10 12 9 12 — 43
Regis Jesuit 12 10 11 13 — 46
Natalie Halbleib 4 2-2 13, Natasha Edge 2 5-6 10, Katie Cunningham 1 2-4 4, Adaeze Obinnah 1 4-10 6, Sedia Olsen 2 0-0 4, Erin Kemp 0 0-0 0, Brooke Genovese 2 2-2 6. Totals 12 15-24 43.
REGIS JESUIT (46)
Justine Hall 4 5-5 14, Diani Akigbogun 3 0-1 6, Kelsi Lidge 4 1-3 9, Jessica Lewis 1 3-4 5, Jordan Molyneaux 1 0-0 2, Anna Ptasinski 1 0-0 3, Neffie Lockley 1 1-2 3, TaeKenya Cleveland 2 0-0 4, Wendy Dyer 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 10-15 46.
3-point field goals — Grandview (4): Natalie Halbleib 3, Natasha Edge; Regis Jesuit (2): Justine Hall, Anna Ptasinski. Total fouls — Grandview 19, Regis Jesuit 21. Fouled out — Grandview: Edge, Katie Cunningham; Regis Jesuit: Jordan Molyneaux. Technical fouls — None.