CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE - It was a long, slow walk off the court at the Yates Pavilion for Jefferson Academy members. Never mind it sits on some of the richest real estate in Colorado. The Jaguars were spent.
They went down on Friday evening in the first round of the Class 3A state tournament at Kent Denver, 68-64 to La Junta in a game that they felt they should have won, left a lot of opportunities out there, ended their season and put them into a position to say good-bye to 10 seniors.
"Yeah, but elimination basketball is fun," a disappointed Jefferson Academy senior Trever Ballard said.
The Jags ended 13-10 and will think about this one for a while. They led the Tigers, who advance to Saturday's second round at Kent Denver, by nine points late in the third quarter ... and failed to hang on to the lead.
Coach Mark Sharpley in his 17th season at Jefferson Academy after four at Belleview Christian, could only watch as the Jags ran into some problems, several of the self-generated variety. Turnovers. Missed free throws. Being a step slow on defense. Committing unnecessary fouls. Even a couple of lane violations on free-throw attempts that cost them.
"Yeah," the coach said, "and (the Tigers) capitalized on all of them."
Indeed, La Junta, which squandered an earlier lead in the first half, didn't break or crumble when it trailed 41-32 inside the two-minute mark of the third quarter. They simply cashed in on a couple of 3-points by Zach Archuleta, got energized and were on their way to taking command.
They also benefited on the final play of the third quarter, when the Jags fouled with .4 of a second to go. What's more, they were called for a lane violation on the first attempt, which missed. Of course, the next three were good.
"They hit a couple of 3s from the corner we were expecting and just didn't get there," Sharpley said. "The mistakes, turnovers ... and I think (the Tigers) played very well."
La Junta (16-7), which also didn't have a senior on its roster, built its bulge to 57-52 to with 2:26 to go, but the Jags kept at it and had chances. Behind Ballard, who scored 13 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, Joe Rodriguez, Justin Barlow and Dylan Bensure, Jefferson Academy kept cutting the lead, but had two problems. They couldn't keep the Tigers off the free throw line and they kept making them - 18-of-21 for the quarter - as the Jags had additional problems not covering in-bounds passes and missing key shots from the floor and foul line.
In all, La Junta outscored the Jags 29-21 in the final quarter and it wasn't the way they wanted to go out.
"We should have taken over early," said Ballard, who's now headed to a couple of showcases to help pursue playing in college.
Sharpley, who has seen most everything offered during his tenure, didn't disagree that he has seen some of Friday's play throughout 2016-17.
"It was a little bit of a microcosm of our season," he agreed. "We had some ups and downs, some up-and-down halves."
La Junta 68, Jefferson Academy 64
At Kent Denver
Ballard 8 4-4 23, Rodriguez 7 3-3 19, Barlow 3 0-1 6, Thimsen 0 0-2 0, Bensure 3 0-1 6, Libby 1 1-1 3, Grant 1 0-0 3, Welsch 1 0-0 2, Abeyta 1 0-0 2. Totals 25 8-12 64.
Espinoza 0 0-0 0, Nuschy 5 8-12 18, D. Oquist 6 2-2 17, Archuleta 4 1-2 12, Allatore 3 0-1 6, C. Oquist 1 0-0 2, Schrock 0 4-4 4, Romero 0 9-10 9. Totals 19 24-31 68.
Score by quarters:Jefferson Academy 10 15 18 21 — 64
La Junta 14 7 18 29 — 68
3-point field goals — Ballard, Rodriguez 2, Grant; Archuleta 3, D. Oquist 3. Fouled out — Barlow.