Alex K.W. Schultz
Special to Colorado Community Media
When the Highlands Ranch and Grandview girls basketball teams got together for a nonleague game back in early January, Sienna Betts could only watch from the sideline in a walking boot as Ranch cruised to a 28-point victory.
When the two teams met again on March 4 in the Great 8 round of the Class 6A state playoffs at the Denver Coliseum, Betts was back in the lineup for Grandview — all 6-foot-3 of her.
And what a difference-maker she was.
The sophomore was an absolute force for the Wolves. Betts scored a game-high 23 points as her teammates fed her inside early and often, powering 11th-seeded and defending 5A state champion Grandview to a 57-53 win over the No. 3 Falcons.
Ranch, a seven-time state champion, will have to wait until next season to begin another quest for the program’s first state crown since 2011.
“I’m proud of the kids. I feel like they overachieved all season long,” longtime coach Caryn Jarocki said of her Falcons, winners of this year’s 6A/5A Continental League title after going undefeated (10-0) in league play. “They played their hearts out and worked really hard, so you can’t fault them at all for [coming up short against Grandview].”
Indeed, the Falcons gave it everything they had, but there was only so much they could do against the long and strong Betts, who stood well above the three players charged with guarding her all afternoon: Maddie Groth (6 feet), Ezra Simonich (5-10) and Tori Baker (5-7).
Nearly all of Betts’ points came on catch-and-turn plays in the paint. She was a modest 5-for-12 from the field in the first two quarters but really found her stroke in the second half, connecting on five of six shots.
Not only did Betts get the job done in the scoring column, but she also did a lot of damage on the glass, pulling down 15 rebounds (six offensive, nine defensive) to give herself a double-double. As a team, Ranch had 23 rebounds.
“We didn’t execute our game plan very well on her,” Jarocki said of Betts. “We were trying to double-team her, keep her out of the paint, box her out and limit her touches. She’s very good.”
Said Baker of trying to guard Betts, who was hobbled with a right ankle injury when the two teams met in Ranch’s gym a couple months ago: “She’s so good. She’s very versatile on both sides. My main goal was to try to annoy her and see if I could take her off her game. She’s just a great player overall. She did really well.”
Despite Betts’ big day, Ranch was very much in the game late.
After a Grandview turnover, the Falcons raced down the court and found Baker, who pulled up at the left wing, took aim, fired and swished a 3-pointer to cut the Wolves’ lead to 50-49 with less than 4 minutes to go.
Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky quickly called a timeout, sensing a momentum swing.
After breaking the huddle, the Wolves had trouble advancing the ball much past the halfcourt line because of the pressure the Falcons were applying, forcing Ulitzky to burn yet another timeout. That prompted the Ranch bench and fans to get even louder.
Out of the timeout, Betts — who else — scored inside to quiet the Falcons.
The two teams went back and forth at the free-throw line the rest of the way, but Ranch was never able to catch the Wolves.
“Unfortunately, we just couldn’t pull it out,” said Baker, who scored a team-high 17 points and had four rebounds and six assists.
The turning point in the game came in the third quarter. After leading the whole first half, Ranch (22-4 overall) watched as the Wolves (17-9) went on a 9-0 run to take a 41-34 lead in the closing moments of the quarter.
Baker’s pull-up jumper from the left elbow at the buzzer stopped the bleeding, but Yi answered with a triple to begin the fourth quarter and give Grandview its largest lead of the game at 44-36.
“We got a little stagnant on offense and missed a few shots and [Betts] went to work in the paint,” Jarocki said of the last few minutes of the third quarter.
Groth scored 14 points for Ranch and hauled in eight rebounds. The Falcons’ other scorers were Isabella Shumpert (nine), Simonich (six), Kniyah Dumas (four) and Bailey Williamson (three).
The Falcons could very well make a run in next year’s state tournament as only two players on this year’s roster will be lost to graduation.
“I’m excited for next year,” said Baker, only a sophomore. “Hopefully we come back and go even further in the tournament, but this year was great. I’m so glad we made it to the Elite 8.”