Highlands Ranch girls return to Final Four
DENVER — If experience is a good teaching tool, then the Highlands Ranch girls basketball team should be well schooled in its Final Four game against Arapahoe.
Highlands Ranch (21-4) will play Arapahoe (23-2) in a Class 5A state high school semifinal game at 8:30 p.m. March 14 at the Coors Events Center in Boulder.
It will be the 14th time that Highlands Ranch's Caryn Jarocki will coach a team in the semifinals of the state tournament.
“We trust her,” senior center Madison Montgomery said. “We know she knows what's going on, how to keep us calm, get us ready and prepare for games.”
Jarocki, who has won seven state championships at Highlands Ranch, realizes the challenge that the balanced, deep and defensive-oriented Warriors will present.
“They are a solid ball club,” Jarocki said. “They like to pressure you and play good defense. And, they have some good bigs too. We're hoping we can spread them out a little on that big court at CU.”
This will be the third consecutive Final Four appearance for Highlands Ranch.
“It feels good but we're not done yet,” senior forward Abriana Lujan said.
Highlands Ranch advanced to the Boulder with a 57-43 quarterfinal triumph over Ralston Valley on March 7 at the Denver Coliseum.
The Falcons were down early but played good defense, rebounded and ran crisp cuts in an 18-point second quarter that helped gain a 35-21 halftime lead.
Lujan, a 5-foot-10 senior who led the Falcons with 15 points, scored 13 points and had five of her game-high 11 rebounds in the first half. She also finished with three assists and two blocked shots.
“Lately we've been coming out in the second half, really saving ourselves for the second half,” Lujan said. “That's what we talked about, playing all four quarters, showing up at game time instead of showing up like a hour later like for the third quarter. Our defense really picked up and that's how we pulled away from Ralston Valley.”
Highlands Ranch had an 18-point lead early in the third quarter but the Mustangs trimmed the Falcons' advantage to 10 points with 5:30 remaining in the game when Montgomery scored six straight points, four after getting offensive rebounds.
“Her offensive rebounding and put-backs saved our butts,” Jarocki said. “We've been asking her to do that all year so I'm glad it finally showed up.”
Mongtomery wound up with 11 points and seven rebounds with her six points in that fourth-period flurry helping to stave off any Ralston Valley comeback hopes.
“That was pretty important because we had 10 turnovers in the first half and that accounted for 11 of their points,” Montgomery said. “Half of their points were from our mistakes. So we just need to clean up, focus, follow our shots and the rest would come.”
Highlands Ranch, which hit 56.5 percent of its field goal attempts in the first half, shot 48.9 percent for the game and outrebounded the Mustangs 37-34.
“Rebounding was really a key,” Jarocki said. “We sort of didn't do that much in the third quarter. We did that in the second and we played defense in the second quarter.”
Ralston Valley finished its season with a 23-3 record.