BOULDER – The crimson, strawberry-like scrape on Dylan Tucker’s right knee told the story of Lewis-Palmer’s championship journey.
Last season, the Rangers were stupendously stacked with talent, blessed with size, speed and a 6-foot-10 superstar named Josh Scott. That title team played with a fierce desire.
This season’s desire was even deeper. The Rangers were again talented, but talent is not why they reign in 4A. They claimed the state title because of an unquenchable hunger to repeat.
On Saturday night, Lewis-Palmer slogged to a 51-40 victory over Valor Christian in the state finals. The game was a shadow of Friday night’s fiery, superbly played semis against Wasson. That was the real title game of Colorado.
Valor traveled through a weaker bracket, and it showed. The Eagles were outmatched. The Rangers should have pulled away much earlier. Even on an off night, Lewis-Palmer won by double figures. They won because of Jordan Scott’s 17 points and Justin Smith’s 15 points.
But the Rangers arrived in the title game because of the fiery, hustling, dive-on-the-floor approach of Tucker, Logan Jones and Tyler Owens.
In the first half of Lewis-Palmer’s win over Wasson, the ball was rolling rapidly out of bounds. From my angle, it appeared Tucker had no shot at saving it.
But Tucker is not one to surrender easily. He sprinted after the ball, dived on the floor and saved it. When he stood up, his knee resembled raw hamburger.
This was his announcement. He would do anything to lift his team to victory.
Scott laughed as he remembered Tucker’s endless hustling.
“Every team needs one,” Scott said. “He gets us going. He gets all the hustle plays.”
Tucker made another announcement in the first half of Saturday’s title game. Valor’s Garrett Baggett had been talking rudely to Lewis-Palmer freshman Jonathan Scott. This infuriated Tucker.
When Baggett drove the basket, Tucker swatted his shot and began howling with happiness. “Get that out!” he shouted. Referees asked Tucker to turn down his volume, and he did.
But a statement had been made. Tucker was protecting his teammate and the rim.
Lewis-Palmer coach Russ McKinstry is a calm soul. Scott calls him “a Zen master.” It’s rare to see McKinstry display emotion in a game, although Lewis-Palmer players say he’s not so serene at practice.
McKinstry watched Tucker’s emotional outburst after the Baggett block. This was not a typical Rangers performance, but their coach did not mind.
“He’s got a motor and sometimes that motor runs hot,” McKinstry said of Tucker. “And that’s OK.”
In the fourth quarter, Valor surrounded Scott and Smith with defenders, essentially daring the other Rangers to defeat them. Tucker took the Eagles up on the dare, scoring two baskets along with a precise bounce pass to Owens. Valor never recovered.
“I knew somebody had to step up,” Tucker said.
He stood up, using an ugly knee to do so.