March 14, 2014 Updated: March 14, 2014 at 10:42 pm
Meet the team that should be the favorite to win the Colorado 2015 3A boys basketball title:
The Colorado Springs Christian School Lions.
Yes, I realize CSCS lost to Holy Family, 59-51, in Friday's 3A state semis at Clune Arena.
But this is a remarkably gifted team, at least by Colorado 3A standards. The Lions boast the size of a college team along with speed, strong shooting and a future Division I player in freshman Justin Engesser. Nobody graduates. The entire squad should return next season.
The Lions had virtually everything required to win the state title this season.
Everything, that is, except a searing focus.
Holy Family revealed to a large Clune crowd what the Lions lack. Holy Family plays basketball with an impressive level of violent aggression. The Lions had become accustomed to the more gentle style of basketball played by 3A opponents in the Colorado Springs area. Holy Family's Tigers, meanwhile, had been slugging it out in the more brutish world of Denver-area basketball.
CSCS point guard Chris Hildenbrand suffered as much as anyone from Holy Family's hands-on - and we're talking literally here - style of defense.
"They don't let you breathe, you know," Hildenbrand said.
He's exaggerating, but not by much. Holy Family did not look much like a holy family during the 32 minutes of Friday's game. They pushed and they leaned into picks and they elbowed. This is what is known as winning basketball.
"We didn't handle their pressure," CSCS coach Mark Engesser said. "We knew that's how they played, but we just didn't handle it."
Holy Family's tough guy approach pushed the Tigers to a 41-25 lead over CSCS and for a few moments a rout seemed inevitable. Give CSCS credit. The Lions regrouped and placed a scare into Holy Family, cutting the lead to 49-44 before falling short.
The Lions remained alive until 2:58 remained when Dante Fewell launched a 3-pointer. CSCS trailed by 7 points, and it looked as if the shot would drop.
It didn't. The shot rattled out, and that was it for CSCS this season.
But let's talk about next season. The loss offers a clear challenge to the Lions. CSCS features 6-foot-7 Sam Howard and 6-foot-9 Nic Doherty, a duo who dominated smaller opponents all season. That dominance ended Friday. The twin towers were routinely pushed aside by Holy Family's much shorter and much more determined inside players. Howard needs to lose 15 pounds, and Doherty needs to gain 20, at least, in the offseason.
Holy Family's defenders swarmed CSCS ballhandlers and shooters. At times, CSCS played a lazy zone, which allowed Holy Family to sink 3s and seize a big lead.
But there's every reason to believe in this team in 2014-2015. Holy Family and Faith Christian will, as always, be waiting with their rough stuff in the state playoffs.
"But we know what to expect next year, and I think we should be favored to win," Hildenbrand said.
I agree. The Lions, wiser and meaner, own everything required to rule the state next season.