How ‘Bout Them Cardinals!
PUEBLO – As the crowd chants transformed from “Western Slope” to “golden ball,” it all started sinking in.For the first time in the history of the school, the Grand Valley Cardinals were finally champions.After pulling off upsets in the Great Eight and Final Four, the Cardinals boys basketball team defeated Burlington 84-75 to win the Class 2A state title on Saturday at the Pueblo Event Center.”Praise God. It is a dream come true, really,” said senior Luke Braby, who scored 16 points in the win. “It’s my last game, and I am going out on top. The fab five, the seniors (Braby, Sam McKinley, Mitch Belden, Danny Manzanares and Richard Gallegos), the team – we did it. I feel like we shocked the world. We put Grand Valley on the map.”With a crowd of white cheering in the background, the players and head coach Scott Kiburis hugged and celebrated before, during and after the golden ball trophy presentation.”Our bench just loved (when the crowd was yelling “Western Slope”). We feel like we are underrepresented in the sense that people don’t give us enough attention,” Kiburis said. “They think (Western Slope teams) shouldn’t be in the tournament, or have two teams in the tournament (Meeker was the other WSL team at state). But it feels good, for the community, the school, the Western Slope and 2A basketball. We are excited about it.”
Grand Valley fans’ chants continued long after the game was over, as the crowd stood outside the locker room and yelled “Cardinals, Cardinals, Cardinals…””When we set out, we said we want to come back with that gold ball and we did it,” Braby said. “We told the bus driver we were going to have a little more hardware coming home and we got it.”Gallegos opened the game with a 3-pointer, the first of 11 for Grand Valley. Colton Cowan added another 3, while Braby hit some buckets in the paint and the Cardinals took a 13-12 lead at the end of the first quarter. Tyler Jensen took his turn from the perimeter in the second, hitting two treys and helping the Cardinals piece together a 7-0 run at the end of the frame to go up 35-28 at the half. The final shot of the half was a layup from Braby, drawing “Luuuuuke” yells from the crowd that sounded like boo, but just made the 6-foot-5 post smile.Jensen and Cowan continued the 3-point assault in the third, as the Cards worked to an 11-point lead. Burlington wasn’t going to let Grand Valley walk away with the trophy without a fight, however.Cougar junior guard Nat Davis, who finished the game with eight 3s and 32 points, busted two 3s and also added some free throws to cut Grand Valley’s led to 52-49 going into the final quarter.In rapid succession, Cowan dropped a 3, followed by two from McKinley, whose back-to-back treys were his first and second of the game. “I built confidence after that and knew that I just had to keep playing hard and they’d start falling,” McKinley said.Suddenly, the Cards were up by 10 with 6 minutes to go. Manzanares then drained a 3, then Cowan sunk his fourth, preventing the Cougars from shrinking the scoring gap smaller than eight.”I was feeling it all weekend, there was no fear,” Cowan said of his on-fire shot.Burlington started to foul Grand Valley, but with less than 2 minutes left and Grand Valley free throws falling, it was useless.Kiburis, who has coached and watched the senior group since sixth grade, believes the players’ dedication to the sport is what helped the Cards nab their first title.”They always showed up to practice. Nothing got in the way of basketball – open gyms, summer leagues – they were always there,” Kiburis said. “And I think that showed throughout because they would pass the ball and they knew guys would be in the spot. They can see each other and read each others’ minds.”McKinley scored 20 in the game, Jensen totaled 19 and Cowan scored 13 for the Cardinals, who will be welcomed back into Parachute as the town’s first state champion.”It’s an incredible feeling. I love it,” McKinley said. “Especially being a senior and going out as a state champion, it feels good.”
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