All those sessions shooting free throws with her dad paid dividends for Highlands Ranch junior Payton Muma on March 6 at the Denver Coliseum. The Falcons held a 45-44 lead over Continental League …
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All those sessions shooting free throws with her dad paid dividends for Highlands Ranch junior Payton Muma on March 6 at the Denver Coliseum.
The Falcons held a 45-44 lead over Continental League rival Regis Jesuit with 1:15 left in the game and then Muma sank six straight free throws in the Great Eight contest to advance to the semifinals of the Class 5A girls state high school basketball tournament with a 51-44 win over the Raiders.
Muma, who finished with a team-high 18 points, was confident when she toed the free throw line. The first two of her late-game trips to the charity stripe were for one-and-one situations.
“I just thought these need to go in,” said Muma. “I practice with my dad at the gym on free throw shots. So I had to make them. I go to the gym almost every night with my dad and I have to make 45-of-50 free throws.”
Highlands Ranch held a 13-point lead after the first quarter, but fell behind by a point early in the fourth quarter after a basket by Avery Vansickle, who took game scoring honors with 22 points.
Highlands Ranch quickly regained a slim lead, and a 3-point basket by Vansickle pulled the Raiders within 45-44 with 75 seconds to play when Highlands Ranch slowed down the game and Muma made the strategy a success.
“We went to a four corners and tried to take a little air out of the ball,” said Highlands Ranch coach Caryn Jarocki, whose team improved to 21-5 and avenged an earlier 37-35 overtime loss to Regis. “When you go to that strategy and slow it down you have to make the free throws, otherwise it is like a turnover.”
“I talked to her (Muma) this week about moving from being good to being great. The great players get to that free throw line and make those. Great players don't turn the ball over at the end. Great players finish the last shot, they just don't take it. I was hoping she could move from good to great, and we saw a little bit of that tonight.”
Regis Jesuit coach Carl Mattei said the fact that his best defensive player Gracie Weigand left the game with a knee injury late in the first period made a big difference during the conclusion of the game.
“We came back and took a little bit of a lead,” said Mattei. “The problem is you have to have poise. You want it so bad. We've been to seven finals, 13 Final Fours in 17 seasons, and I've won three championships. We know what it takes to get there.”
Senior Jada Moore had 11 points and 11 rebounds for Regis (21-5) in the game.
Sarah Mitchell had 10 points for the Falcons, while Alex Pirog and Mitchell each had six rebounds.
Highlands Ranch will face defending state champion Cherry Creek (24-2) in the semifinals on March 12 at the Denver Coliseum. Jarocki, Colorado's leading girls coach with 663 wins, couldn't rattle off the number of times she has had teams in the Final Four, but the Falcons have won seven state titles.
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