BOULDER — Highlands Ranch's players filed out of the dressing room at the University of Colorado's Coors Events Center with ice packs taped on a couple players.
The Falcons' comeback bid fell short as Continental League rival Regis Jesuit claimed the Class 5A girls state basketball championship with a 53-46 win March 16.
“The kids played hard,” Highlands Ranch coach Caryn Jarocki said. “I'm really proud of them.”
Highlands Ranch, with a team loaded with four senior starters, was seeking its eighth state title in the last 13 seasons, but poor shooting (28.9 percent) and turnovers (21) were costly for the Falcons in a game featuring two good defensive teams.
“We had way too many turnovers and we started out way too slow,” Jarocki said. “If we could have hit some 3s early in the game it would have changed the complexion of the game. We were shooting bricks.
“When we did crash the boards, we got some easy put-backs. We sort of let loose on a few fundamentals.”
Many of the Falcons' turnovers were unforced and going 4:16 without scoring a point in the first half forced Highlands Ranch to play from behind. Highlands Ranch was 4-for-17 from 3-point range and missed six long range shots in the first half.
However, the play of Abriana Lujan gave the Falcons (23-5) an opportunity to win as she scored 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter.
The 5-foot-10 senior had eight points in the final 2:11 as Highlands Ranch overcame a 10-point deficit. She hit two 3-pointers and made two steals in the last 60 seconds.
Highlands Ranch, which cut the Raiders' lead to two points with 46 seconds remaining, was behind by three when Lujan drove to the basket, scored and appeared to be fouled with 18 seconds to play. However, she was called for a charge to wipe out the score and possible tying free throw.
Four consecutive free throws by the Raiders, which made 9-of-10 attempts from the charity stripe in the final two minutes, sealed the win for a Regis squad that had no seniors on the team.
“That was all heart,” Jarocki said of the Falcons' rally. “We had a bunch of fighters and they fought the whole way.”
Lujan also had 11 rebounds in the game to pace the Falcons who received a 12-point, nine-rebound performance from senior Madison Montgomery.
Junior starter Cierra Morgan and Symone Starks, a freshman reserve, are two key players who will return next year for Jarocki, Colorado's all-time winningest girls coach with 506 victories.
“We had a lot of challenges that no one knows about that we had to overcome,” Jarocki said. “A lot of kids were sick, we had a lot of injuries, we missed CC (Morgan) at the beginning of the season and she came on late.
“So to be able to overcome all that adversity and to be able to get to the championship game was huge. And that was not our only goal. We did want to win. It was a great season.”
Regis has been in the state championship game four of the past five seasons, also winning in 2009.
Raiders coach Carl Mattei figures the rivalry with Highlands Ranch will continue.
“They have a good coach,” Mattei said of the Falcons. “They are a team that has a standard they set and no matter who is on that team, the standard is what the focus has to be. With our program, it's the same thing.”
The Raiders' Justine Hall scored a game-high 24 points and was 9-of-10 from the foul line.
Hall connected on 7-of-15 field goals in a dominating performance and was supported by Diani Akigbogum's 10-point, 13-rebound effort before the 6-foot junior fouled out late in the game. Kelsi Lidge also scored 10 points for Regis.
Regis had nine juniors, a sophomore and freshman on its roster for the state tournament, which bodes well for another run at the state championship in 2014.