Playing with a near-empty stadium, the Highlands Ranch girls basketball team lost 55-42 against Cherry Creek in the CHSAA Final Four on Thursday, March 12.
Due to concerns about the recent outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), attendance was limited to four guests per player and essential team personnel.
Before the game, Cherry Creek was ranked the #1 team in the Colorado Class 5A Continental League with an overall record of 24-2. The Falcons were ranked fourth in the state and had a record of 21-5.
Without fans in attendance, the atmosphere of the game was different than a regular playoff game. Sarah Mitchell, senior shooting guard, said, “It was obviously really hard being out there not being able to play for all of our fans, parents, supporters. It’s what makes these games so special.”
With only a few rows of supporters in attendance, the crowd still came in support of HR and represented various players with cardboard cutouts of their heads. Without cheerleaders, the parents took it upon themselves to lead different chants throughout the game.
Around this time last year in the Final Four, Cherry Creek defeated HR with a score of 53-52. Taylor Ray, sophomore and shooting guard and power forward, said, “We had been working really hard every practice to prepare for this game. Since it’s against Creek, it was more special for our team because we had a chip on our shoulder from last season.”
In the beginning of the first quarter, HR went back-to-back scoring with their opponent until Cherry Creek’s Jana Vangytenbek, senior point guard, ran up the score with seven points. The quarter ended with the Falcons behind 16-7.
Minutes into the second quarter, Ray brought the energy onto the court and scored five more points on top of her five points in the first quarter, leaving her with 10 of HR’s 21 points in the first half.
With HR still trailing Cherry Creek 29-21 at the end of the first half, Payton Muma, junior point guard, jumped into the third quarter with a strong drive to the basket, giving her 8 of HR’s 25 points.
A slow third quarter for HR left them only scoring 8 points while Cherry Creek put up 16. As the quarter came to a close, Mitchell made 2 free throws and left HR behind Cherry Creek 45-29.
In the fourth quarter, Alex Pirog, sophomore center, set a screen and created an opportunity for Muma to drive at the basket and score. As Gianna Principato, junior shooting guard, checked in for the second time in the game, she was able to get back-to-back rebounds and then assist Ray for another three-pointer.
With two minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the game, HR shifted into a full court man-to-man press to bring intensity to the court. Seconds after checking into the game, Ayesha Leeper, senior guard and small forward, hit a three-pointer to fire up the crowd.
The next possession, Leeper grabbed a rebound and passed the ball to Muma for another three-pointer, bringing HR within 11 points of Cherry Creek with one minute remaining in the game.
As the game came to a close, Cherry Creek made another basket and HR was unable to put up the points needed, leading to a 55-42 loss. The Cherry Creek Bruins will face Grandview in the championship game this Saturday, March 14th at the Denver Coliseum.
Camryn Montgomery, Staff Reporter