BOULDER - Imagine a girls' basketball team with a perfect record, a team blessed with a fast, athletic 6-foot-4 center, a team that won 16 games by more than 20 points, a team jammed with young women hungry to rule the state.
And now imagine that same team as the underdog in the state final.
This was the blessing given to Mesa Ridge coach Jeff Beatty. He arrived at Coors Event Center with the rarest of combinations: an unburdened, unbeaten team.
The Grizzlies declined to waste this rare gift. They defeated Broomfield, 45-41, in the 4A final to complete a perfect season. Mesa Ridge's victory will be called an upset.
It wasn't. The superior team rules Colorado. Mesa Ridge is taller and faster than allegedly unbeatable Broomfield.
Broomfield coach Mike Croell was gracious in defeat. He's watched over a program that claimed 207 victories since 2007. He repeatedly described Mesa Ridge as a "great" team.
"I don't think we choked," Croell said.
I agree, coach. Broomfield's swarming defense is the only reason Mesa Ridge failed to win this one by at least 10 points. The Grizzlies stumbled to 22 turnovers, preventing a rout.
Broomfield (27-1) rolled into the title game averaging 75 points and shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. They utterly dominated all opponents. The Eagles' most dramatic game? An 18-point victory.
Mesa Ridge barely arrived here, defeating Pueblo South in a Thursday night semifinal thriller. The Grizzlies struggled to four single-digit wins this season.
Yes, Broomfield had been utterly dominant, but the Eagles had never encountered a disruption quite like Mesa's Kylee Shook, who stands 6-4 (at least) and roams the court with a nonchalance that hides her quickness. Broomfield ransacked 4A basketball with its sweet shooting touch.
Shook's long arms hid the rim for the entire game, and it's tough to hit what you can't see. Broomfield shooters seldom had a chance. The Eagles missed 24 of 36 shots, and they'll be seeing Shook's arms in their sleep for years.
Heading into the game, Beatty's best-case scenario was to hold Broomfield to 50 points. As he stood in a hallway a few minutes after his team's surprising yet unsurprising triumph, he struggled to believe Broomfield had only scored 41.
Broomfield is jammed with players with big-game experience, and for a moment it looked as though the Eagles' proud past would doom the Grizzlies. Mesa pushed to a 31-22 lead with 1:43 left in the third period, which inspired Croell to call a timeout.
Boom. Broomfield scored seven points in the next 90 seconds, cutting the lead to 31-29. Mesa Ridge was reeling, desperate for a statement.
Mische' Hubbard delivered that statement, scoring a layup just before the third-quarter buzzer. It was the biggest single basket of the game for the Grizzlies.
For many at Coors Event Center, the game started and finished with jolting surprises. The first surprise arrived when Beatty walked out on the court wearing a purple suit. His players, he said later, picked out his garish game attire.
The second surprise was delivered by an unbeaten team that, somehow, arrived at Coors as underdogs. Just about everyone doubted Mesa, a team that had beaten all previous opponents.