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Boys' basketball: CSCS never lets up in advancing to 3A quarterfinals

March 8, 2014 Updated: March 8, 2014 at 11:51 pm

From the get-go, there was no doubt about it. Colorado Springs Christian School wasn't about to relive the fiasco that happened last season. Or the one that crashed down on the Lions in 2011.

No. 3 CSCS hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, never trailed in the game and blew out No. 14 Grand Valley 62-19 on Saturday to advance to next week's Class 3A quarterfinals.

History was a driving force Saturday. Junior Chris Hildenbrand and freshman Justin Engesser each scored 15 points and junior Sam Howard added 13, as the Lions' offense pounded the ball inside and lit it up from outside.

"Coming from last year, a defeat that we did not want at all, and coming so close," said Hildenbrand, one of three key returners who went through last year's meltdown when CSCS (21-3) blew a nine-point lead with 6:35 left in the same round as Saturday's game, "this means the world to me, to my teammates. We just knew what we had to do to get here."

The Lions play No. 6 Denver Science & Tech (winners over No. 11 St. Mary’s) on Thursday.

Hildenbrand hit the first of the Lions' six 3-pointers, putting CSCS up 5-2. The Lions never relented after that. They held Grand Valley (15-9) to single digits in every quarter - never giving up more than six in a quarter - and forced the Cardinals into 14 turnovers before CSCS coach Mark Engesser all but emptied his bench with 5:23 left in the game.

"They wanted it bad," Mark Engesser said. "You could tell they give it everything they have to redeem last year a little bit."

The Cardinals didn't sit back, either. They tried to push the pace and tried to keep up early when they fell behind, putting up 11 3s in the first half. But only two of those went in, and the Cardinals found themselves trailing 41-8 at the half.

The Lions, on the other hand, used their high-tempo offense to find the open man. While they only shot 36.1 percent in the first half, the volume of shots made up for the ones that didn't go in. CSCS took 36 shots in the half. They got better in the third, shooting 42.9 percent and taking a 49-14 lead after three.

"We've been working hard all year," said Justin Engesser, who, though while a freshman, has been around the program plenty with brother Nate graduating in 2012 and his dad, Mark, taking over. "We lost to Colorado Academy on a last-second shot. We just kept that vision in our mind all year and just kept working hard."

Sandwiched between those 2013 and 2011 upsets, though, was a trip to the quarterfinals. The Lions lost in that round before cruising to the consolation championship. Their methodical breakdown of Grand Valley says they don't have much desire for another early letdown at state.

"We have two of the tallest guys in the state," Hildenbrand said. "We just try to feed them in through there. And if it's not there, we trust them to pass it back out to us."

Maybe the best part, the Lions don't have to travel at all. The 3A state tournament will be at the Air Force Academy's Clune Arena, a place CSCS is familiar with after attending a camp there last summer.

"It's an advantage for us because we played on the court this summer," Justin Engesser said. "We get to sleep in our own beds instead of go to a hotel, so it's good."

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