LOUISVILLE — For 18 years, since Monarch opened it's doors, the boys basketball program has known nothing other than Ken Niven as its coach.
Wednesday night signalled the end of an era.
"I'm at peace with that," said Niven, whose prep coaching career came to an end when his Coyotes lost 59-53 to Highlands Ranch in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
"But right now it is really emotional."
The legendary coach, who won four consecutive state titles from 1989-92 in Alamosa and spent 19 seasons with the Mean Moose, finishes his brilliant 37-year run with 510 career wins.
It was an emotional final talk with his team after the loss.
"Not the way we wanted to send coach out, he's one of the best in Colorado history," a tearful senior guard Mac Rowan said. "He's shown us hard work. He's taught us that if you want something, you have to go get it, you can't just ask for it."
For the first 16 minutes of Wednesday night's contest, the Coyotes simply didn't play well. At one point they were 5-for-30 from the field and the Continental League's Falcons were finding openings in the Monarch defense that was leading to easy baskets.
Highlands Ranch (11-14), which will travel to the Jim Baggot Region's top-seeded Eaglecrest Raptors (21-2) on Saturday, had doubled up Monarch 18-9 after one quarter and extended their lead to as much as 15 points in the second quarter.
"We missed a bunch of bunnies and we kind of dug ourselves a hole," said Niven, a former three-sport athlete at Broomfield in the early 70's.
But the Coyotes didn't just roll over in the second half. They started to find their range in the third quarter and between Rowan, Taylor Trinh and Thomas Paluch knocked down six 3-pointers. Monarch finished the period on a 10-0 and went to the final quarter not only with a 42-41 lead, but riding a huge wave of momentum.
"I told the team (at halftime), if we want any chance at this, we simply have to play harder," said Rowan, who is bound for Johns Hopkins in the fall. "If we are going to get face-guarded and taken out of what we want to do, we just have to play harder.
"I think we had the energy, we just didn't have the right mentality down the stretch. It just wasn't our night, but on any other night, that is our game."
The wave of momentum came crashing down in the form of a 9-0 run for the Falcons that saw the lead grow to 50-44 with 3:30 to play.
After giving all they had to get out of the initial hole they were in, the Coyotes couldn't muster another comeback down the stretch.
They got back to within one point on several occasions and had a chance to take the lead back on Trinh's 3-pointer from the corner with 25 seconds left, but it was no good and they were forced to foul the Falcon's — who were good from the line when it mattered most.
"We had a chance. We played really well in the second half," Niven said. "We deserved to win."
Jack Fiddler led a balanced Highlands ranch attack with 17 points. Brendan Sullivan had 14 and Tyson Gilbert chipped in with 12.
Rowan, who had just two points in the first half, finished with 19 for the Coyotes. Trinh had 13 and Paluch added 10 in the losing effort for Monarch.
Highlands Ranch 59, Monarch 52
HIGHLANDS RANCH (11-13)
Logan Faberowski 0 0-0 0, Holten Sparling 0 3-4 3, Jack Fiddler 7 2-2 17, Brelan Griffin 1 0-0 2, Will Powell 1 0-0 2, McKale Williams 1 2-3 4, Brendan Sullivan 6 0-0 14, Tyson Gilbert 3 5-7 12, Max Holewinski 1 2-2 5, Nick Rohacek 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 14-18 59.
TJ Jones 1 1-2 3, Ernesto Chavez 2 0-0 4, Mac Rowan 7 0-0 19, Garrett Duffy 2 0-0 4, Matt Behrens 0 0-0 0, Isaac Green 0 0-0 0, Steve Hoban 0 0-0 0, Taylor Trinh 5 0-0 13, Thomas Paluch 3 2-2 10. Totals 20 3-4 53.
Score by quarters:Highlands Ranch 18 10 13 18 — 59
Monarch 9 9 24 11 — 53
3-point field goals — Highlands Ranch (5): Sullivan 2, Fiddler, Gilbert, Holewinski; Monarch (10): Rowan 5, Trinh 3, Paluch 2. Total fouls — Highlands Ranch 9; Monarch 16.