Alex K.W. Schultz
Special to Colorado Community Media
With time running out on the Lutheran boys basketball team’s season, Kade Speckman corralled the ball, spun and banked it home — twice — to keep the Lions’ year and state-championship hopes alive.
The two clutch shots by the freshman came on back-to-back possessions in the closing moments of regulation to force overtime against Alamosa in the Great 8 round of the Class 4A state playoffs March 3 at the Denver Coliseum.
Then, in the extra period, Braydon Jacob splashed a momentum-seizing 3-pointer and the Lions came up with some big stops down the stretch to win 65-56 over the Mean Moose.
Lutheran, the No. 6 seed in the 32-team bracket, will now face second-seeded Resurrection Christian in a Final Four game March 9 at the Coliseum. Resurrection toppled The Classical Academy 68-44 in another of the Great 8 games to advance.
“It happened to be our day,” said Lutheran coach Bill Brandsma, who shepherded the Lions to the Class 3A state crown in 2021 and a state runner-up finish in 2018. “Every run I’ve been a part of has been comprised of a bit of luck, needing to execute and a whole lot of adversity. And so far, we’re making it work.”
Against No. 3 Alamosa, adversity struck for the Lions late in the fourth quarter, when their three-point lead midway through the period turned into a four-point deficit with 55 seconds left.
Out of a timeout, the Lions got the ball to the 6-foot-8 Speckman, who whirled and kissed it off the glass and in to narrow Alamosa’s lead to 50-48 with 45 ticks remaining.
On Alamosa’s ensuing possession and with the Mean Moose in the bonus, Luke Christensen was fouled on a non-shooting sequence but missed his attempt from the charity stripe. The Lions vacuumed in the rebound and Brandsma called another timeout with 28 seconds showing on the clock.
After an inbounds pass from Brendan Koolenga to Lalo Gonzalez, the Lions worked the ball around the arc before finding Speckman down low once again. And, just like he had done moments before, the freshman swiveled, jumped and, with defenders’ arms in his face, laid it in, knotting the score at 50-50 with 8 seconds to go.
Alamosa had a chance to end it in regulation, but Kade Jones’ runner from the elbow at the buzzer missed left.
“Every day in practice, we work on post moves and those types of shots,” Speckman said of the two catch-and-turn shots he hit late. “Working on those situations in practice really helped us to be prepared for that in-game situation.”
Said Brandsma of the closing moments of regulation: “[The day before the game], we worked in practice on being down by four points with 1:15 left. So, what was going through my mind was, ‘The boys have been here before. They understand how much time is left. We don’t have to have a 3 right here. We can come down, we need to execute and then we need to get a stop.’ And they did.”
In overtime, with nearly half of the extra period gone and the game tied at 52-52, Jacob buried a 3-pointer from the right wing — a huge shot in a huge moment. The game never felt the same and the Mean Moose never looked the same from that point on.
Lutheran outscored Alamosa 10-4 the rest of the way and induced three turnovers out of the Mean Moose in the final 1:05 to seal the win.
“I had confidence. I knew that was going to be in,” Jacobs said of his overtime triple, one of four 3-pointers — a game-high — on the afternoon for the junior. “I like that right wing.”
Of Jacobs’ big trey in overtime, Brandsma said: “He’s a very special player. I wouldn’t want the ball being launched from the 3-point line by anybody else. For him to do it in that moment was huge.”
Alamosa (21-4 overall), content to play at a slower pace early on, outshot the Lions 48% (12-for-25) to 39% (10-for-26) in the first two quarters to take a 31-28 halftime lead.
Over a 6:35 span that covered a small chunk of the first quarter and more than half of the second period, the Mean Moose outscored Lutheran 20-5 to take a 29-20 lead — the largest lead of the game by either team.
The game took a turn in the second half, however, when Brandsma decided to dial up the pressure on Alamosa using a halfcourt trap press. The Lions (18-8) forced Alamosa into 10 second-half turnovers and scored eight points off those turnovers.
“They were getting really comfortable and getting clean looks,” Brandsma said of the Mean Moose in the first half. “We worked on [the pressure we applied in the second half] throughout the week. Throughout the year, we’ve tried to change up the tempo on teams. It’s always a little bit of a gamble, but it happened to work.”
Jacob scored a game-high 19 points for the Lions. Gonzalez (12) and Tucker Monroe (10) also scored in double figures. Speckman (eight), Koolenga (seven), Hunter Caldwell (six) and MJ Rottinghaus (three) rounded out the scoring for the Lions.
Lutheran will now turn its attention to Resurrection, which beat the Lions 61-55 on Jan. 14 in a nonleague game.
Brandsma knows it’ll be a stiff test but believes his squad is up to the challenge.
“Resurrection was preseason No. 1. I had them preseason No. 1,” he said. “They’re a dang good team. They’re incredibly well-coached. It’s going to be fun.”