March 15, 2013 Updated: July 3, 2013 at 9:24 am
BOULDER • It’s over.
No feel-good, movie-script ending. Just triple zeroes and too few points.
Time ran out on Wasson’s final playoff journey Friday at the Coors Events Center. It took a defending 4A state champion in Lewis-Palmer to finally hold off the Thunderbirds, 61-54 in their last basketball game as the clock winds down on 54 years of high school history at the brick building on Afton Way.
Jordan Scott led four scorers in double figures with 15 points and added 10 rebounds, and the Rangers overcame a four-point deficit in the fourth quarter with big shots and clutch free throws to survive and meet Valor Christian at 6 p.m. Saturday for the 4A state championship.
It’s a rematch of last year’s semifinal, when the Rangers (24-3) beat the Eagles (22-4) to advance to the finals and ultimately win their first gold ball since 1994. Sierra was the last team to post back-to-back state titles, doing so in 2009-10.
“The basketball team meant everything to us, to the community and the fans who supported us every night,” said Thunderbirds senior DJ Hanes, who led his team with 19 points. “Wasson is a great school, even though it’s closing.”
The semifinal featured 11 ties and six lead changes. After Hanes gave Wasson (25-2) a 52-50 lead with 2:56 left on a baseline drive, the Rangers reclaimed the lead on a 3-pointer by Chase Stone. And they didn’t let it go this time.
Scott made two free throws, then Dylan Tucker made all four of his, and Justin Smith added two more for good measure, as the Rangers outscored the Thunderbirds 11-2 down the stretch.
“We knew they were a great team, and this game would be fast-paced and have a lot of ups and downs,” said Tucker, who had 10 points and five rebounds. “We knew we’d have to fight through it and keep our heads in the fourth quarter.”
Smith added 13 points for the Rangers and Tyler Owens added 11, as all five Rangers’ starters scored in the decisive fourth quarter in which they outscored Wasson 19-8.
“We lost our composure a little bit in the third quarter,” Stone said. “As soon as the fourth quarter started, we made our own little run and got the lead right back.”
Wasson trailed 30-27 at halftime, only the second time all season in which it was behind after the first 16 minutes. With senior floor general Richie Perea on the bench in foul trouble and Hanes struggling from the field, Wasson found a spark in senior Dominic Garcia.
Garcia scored eight straight points as he helped Wasson erase a 34-28 deficit. He connected on a pair of 3-pointers from the left side, then converted a steal at midcourt into a layup that tied the game at 36 with 4:20 left in the third.
His 3-pointer, also from the left wing, put Wasson in front, 43-40 with 41.2 seconds left as the Thunderbirds took the momentum heading into the pivotal fourth quarter.
“The team expected me to step up, and I tried to do my part,” said Garcia, who scored all 11 of his points in the third quarter. “It wasn’t enough. We played our hearts out, and it’s really hard to take. But we’re still family.”
Wasson went cold in the fourth quarter, going just 3-for-11 from the field as the Thunderbirds couldn’t come back one final time.
“In games like this, you wish you could turn back time,” said T-Birds coach Damion Copeland, who spends his overnights in the manufacturing of 3-D X-ray boards. “We didn’t finish, unfortunately, but that’s part of the game. I take my hat off to them. They made the fewest mistakes.”