February 28, 2014 Updated: February 28, 2014 at 10:55 pm
LOVELAND - Despite his high-profiled talent and made-for-basketball frame, senior Caine Martinez knows every game could be the last of his high school career.
He's just hoping his play will delay that from coming any day soon.
With the ball control and finesse of a guard, the 6-foot-8, 245-pound Mesa Ridge center scored 24 points to help the fourth-seeded Grizzlies thwart No.?5 Elizabeth 71-64 in the second round of the 4A playoffs Friday at Thompson Valley.
"For most of us seniors, we won't play in college. So this, well this is our moment," said Martinez, who hopes to play at a junior college next season after his national test scores were admittedly "not good enough" to play at a Division I or Division II school. "We don't want to feel the way we did at the end of last season."
After losing 66-41 to Sand Creek in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Grizzlies played like a team that had been on this stage before.
Seniors JJ Cates and Camren Burns scored 14 points apiece, and fellow-senior Matt Atkins added 10 points and 10 rebounds, as Mesa Ridge stayed calm despite one big run after another from the Cardinals.
"We didn't come out as aggressive as we wanted, but we stayed collected and got it done out there," said the Grizzlies' fourth coach in five years, Paul Mileto, whose team trailed 12-6 in the first quarter before scoring six consecutive points in the final 1:10 of the opening frame to tie the score. "I told them we can't be one-and-done, and they responded."
From there, the Grizzlies pushed their lead to 34-20 at the half, but never felt completely comfortable until the final minute of the game.
Elizabeth's James Christiansen made sure of that. The senior continually reeled his team back to within striking distance by scoring a game-high 28 points.
Take the third quarter, for instance. Christiansen caused two turnovers and scored four points in the final minute to reel Elizabeth to 45-41 with 30 seconds left in the frame.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, Mesa Ridge always responded. And with 20 seconds left in the third quarter, Martinez scored four quick points to give the Grizzlies a 49-41 lead heading into the fourth, and closed with 10 more points in the last eight minutes to help the Grizzlies advance.
"We want to go out with a big bang, and we want to go to state," Martinez said.
Mesa Ridge will face top-seeded Thompson Valley on Saturday afternoon for a chance to move onto the semifinals.