Grizzlies down Demons in 4A state playoff matchup
The Mesa Ridge Grizzlies, the No. 22 seed from the 4A Colorado Springs Metro League, used a lethal combination of size, speed, and strength to race away from the Glenwood Springs Demons in the second half, locking down a state playoff win with a 67-48 victory over the Western Slope League champions on Saturday afternoon inside Chavez-Spencer Gymnasium.
What could very well have been the knockout blow to the Demons was a third quarter that saw the visiting Grizzlies outscore Glenwood 20-5 behind some relentless defensive pressure on the perimeter, and the timely inside and outside scoring of senior guard Deven Nelson, as Mesa Ridge cruised into the final period with a 54-29 advantage.
“We got away from our game plan a bit during that stretch,” Glenwood Head Coach Cory Hitchcock said. “We got caught up in a track meet with them. They’re one of the best fast break teams in the state.”
Glenwood, the No. 11 seed, trailed just 17-9 after one quarter, as junior guard Angel Garcia hit a 3-pointer from the left side, fellow junior Holden Kleager got a bucket inside off a rebound, and another junior, Kevin Ayon, drove hard to the basket and dropped the ball in the hoop over a trio of leaping Grizzlies.
But Nelson, who ended the game with 25 points for Mesa Ridge, got a steal and a layup to push the Grizzlies ahead by double digits at 19-9. Mesa Ridge’s 6’5” senior center Zac Ring was also giving Glenwood fits with his rebounding and scoring near the block as the Grizzlies looked to try to take command of the contest.
The Demons then started to kick things into gear and play like they belonged on the same court as Mesa Ridge. Senior Aaron Smith hit a 3-pointer from deep in the left corner, and fellow senior A.J. Crowley charged to the bucket and scored on a right-handed leaner to get the Grizzlies’ attention. Junior Luke Gair scored off an inbounds play, and when senior Gabe Suarez tallied two on a goaltending call, Glenwood had drawn to within 25-24 with 2:08 until intermission.
Mesa Ridge did not blink though, as they would close the half on a 9-0 run, as seniors Devon Ricketts and Adonis Wallace got baskets to put the score at 34-24 at the half.
Ricketts proved to be a thorn in Glenwood’s side again to start the second half of play when he recorded a steal near halfcourt and bounded home for a two-hand dunk as Mesa Ridge padded their lead. Kleager and Crowley would get answering baskets for the Demons, but with Ring continuing to score inside, and senior D.J. King starting to heat up for the Grizzlies in the scoring department, the lead swelled to 40-29.
The Demon guards were hounded by the quickness and physical play of the Mesa Ridge perimeter trio all afternoon long, and the last 3:19 of the third period, in which the Grizzlies would drop in 14 unanswered points, exemplified the mismatch out front in glaring fashion.
Nelson led the onslaught for Mesa Ridge with a 3-pointer, and then posted up on a couple of possessions to score, as the game – and season – started to slip away from Glenwood. Costly turnovers off the Mesa Ridge full-court pressure, and a decisive rebounding advantage, resulted in more scores close to the basket for the visitors.
Despite the large deficit entering the fourth quarter, the Demons weren’t about to go quietly. Kleager scored to start the period, and the gritty Crowley, playing with the determination of a wounded prize fighter, got two baskets as the Glenwood crowd began to ignite as they rose to their feet.
“This team and this coaching staff has always given me everything they have,” Crowley said following the game. “I just tried my best to do the same for them.”
As he had done all game long though, Nelson punched back for Mesa Ridge. The 6’2” standout guard scored near the basket and was fouled. The ensuing swish of the free throw cooled Glenwood’s momentum a bit. The final flicker to the Demon comeback flame went out when Ricketts rose up high into the air and came down with a tomahawk dunk to put the finishing touches on the game for the Grizzlies.
Hitchcock and the Demons (19-5, 12-0 WSL) bid farewell to seniors Crowley, Smith, and Suarez after the loss.
“Always very proud of these kids and the season they had,” Hitchcock said. “These guys always fought hard and showed a lot of grit. We’ll learn from this game, and grow for next season.”
Crowley led the Demons with 14 points. Garcia had 7 points, with Kleager, junior Chano Gonzalez, and Gair all adding 6 points. Smith contributed 5 points in the loss.
Mesa Ridge, who will next face Pueblo West, got 25 from Nelson, and 14 points each from King and Ring.
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Local teams just missed out on qualifying for state as teams but will be sending individual representatives following Friday’s regional meets.