GOLDEN — For a Holy Family boys basketball team that is looking to develop its identity in 2017-18, there seemed to be no better tool for recognizing its strengths and weaknesses than taking on Class 4A's top-ranked team on the road to kick off the season.
Ranked No. 5 in the CHSAANow.com preseason poll, the Tigers took on the No. 1 Golden Demons in the first round of the D'Evelyn/Golden Preview Classic on Thursday night. Never mind learning about their team against the top competition available, the Tigers nearly pulled off what would have gone down as one of the biggest upsets of the season.
But in the end, the Golden Demons proved as formidable as expected and pulled away late for a 51-44 win.
"We came out strong, no complaints, really, and we played down to the wire," Tigers junior Tanner Baird said. "It was just some execution things. They're good. They got rebounds and keeping them off the glass was tough. They just got us at the end."
On Thursday night at Golden High School, the Tigers picked up right where they left off at the end of last season.
Golden knocked Holy Family out in the Sweet 16 last winter before going on to reach the 4A Final Four. In the rematch, Golden also figured to be even tougher with 11 seniors, including 6-foot-7 Drake University signee Adam Thistlewood, who averaged 18.9 point per game last season and is arguably the best 4A player in the 2018 class. In contrast, Holy Family returned both leading scorers from last year's team in Baird (12.9 ppg) and fellow junior Kyle Helbig (11.8 ppg) but is still a relatively young team after graduating several leaders from last year's team.
In both teams' season opener, however, it was the Tigers who were the aggressors early on. Following a back-and-forth first quarter, the they held the Demons to four points in the second quarter and made a run that positioned them for the near upset with a 27-21 halftime lead.
Having scored just six points in the first half, Thistlewood, who finished with a game-high 23, scored 10 in the third quarter to help cut the Tigers' lead to 36-33. The teams battled through three ties and two leads changes in the final four minutes of the game, and a crossover dribble and two-point jump shot from Baird put the Tigers ahead before Thistlewood responded with a pair of free throws to put Golden up 45-44 with 1:30 left. After that the Tigers went 0 for 3 from the field with two turnovers, one of which led to an uncontested layup at the other end, while the Demons shot a perfect 4 for 4 at the free-throw line.
"We told them before the game that we wanted to learn who we are," Tigers head coach Pete Villecco said. "We have some competitive kids that went toe-to-toe for four quarters with a really good team. We just had a few empty possessions in that fourth quarter. For game one, we have nothing to be ashamed of."
The Tigers will take on the tournament's other host school in D'Evelyn on Friday at 7 p.m.
Golden 51, Holy Family 44
At Golden H.S.
HOLY FAMILY (0-1)
Nellis 1 0-0 3, Helbig 3 3-4 10, Baird 5 0-0 11, Pfenning 0 0-1 0, Kinoti 1 0-0 3, Sanders 2 0-0 5, Jolly 4 2-3 10, Hunter 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 5-7 44.
O'Connell 0 0-0 0, Moore 3 4-4 12, Jones 0 0-0 0, Simon 0 0-0 0, Guerra 0 0-0 0, Mcglaughlin 0 1-2 1, Madsen 5 0-0 10, Thistlewood 9 5-5 23, Anderson 2 0-0 5, Mulligan 0 0-0 0, Bubukin 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 10-11 51.
Score by quarters:Holy Family 151298—44Golden 174128—51
3-point field goals — Holy Family (5): Sanders, Kinoti, Baird, Helbig, Nellis; Golden (3): Moore 2, Anderson. Total fouls — Holy Family 13, Golden 12.