BROOMFIELD — For the first time in five years, the Holy Family boys have clinched a spot in the Great 8 — and they did so on a bigger stage than ever before.
As the final buzzer solidified a 64-54 Tiger win over No. 13 seed Lincoln on Wednesday night, trends were broken and history was made.
After defeating No. 29 seed Northfield on Saturday, the No. 4 seed Tigers found themselves in the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in the past five seasons since making the transition from Class 3A to 4A in 2014. It's a result to celebrate, no doubt, but it's one head coach Peter Villecco has been determined to improve upon.
"This feels awesome," Villecco said after Wednesday's victory. "We knew that Lincoln was a good team. Their length and athleticism was something we haven't seen all year. We had to play our 'A' game, and for the most part I think we did. In spurts, we played as well as we have all year."
While the Lancers (18-7) brought energy into the game, the Tigers (21-4) responded with composure. These characteristics would define the two teams throughout the contest and would ultimately separate them in the end.
The Lancers raced down the court to score first after winning the tip, hinting at the pace they intended to set early on. The Tigers defense didn't budge in the first two quarters and proved to be a perfect response to the Lancers' energy.
Senior Kyle Helbig led the Tigers in the first half with nine points — all of which were earned down low — as the Tigers went into the locker room at halftime with a 28-25 lead.
The Lancers started the second half as energetic as the Tigers were composed, but Lancer energy eventually turned into turnovers while Tiger composure turned into points.
The Tigers out-scored the Lancers 19-7 in the third quarter to solidify a 47-32 lead heading to the final period of play. Despite the large lead, the fourth quarter was anything but comfortable for the Tigers.
Back-and-forth points defined the final quarter as Lincoln was determined to chip away at the 15-point deficit in the final eight minutes — and that's exactly what it did.
A three-pointer by senior Jahquale Veazy set the tone of the fourth quarter and brought the Lancers within 12. As the Lancers continued to find much-needed points, the Tigers struggled against a tight full-court press.
The Lancers would cut the Tiger lead to as few as five points with a minute remaining. Ty Foster, who finished with 11 points, took a shot from beyond the arc for a chance to bring his team within two points, but couldn't connect. The Tigers grabbed the loose ball and found themselves at the free throw line, where they found critical points late in the game.
The Tigers hit all nine attempts from the line in the fourth quarter to earn the 10-point victory over the Lancers.
Senior Tanner Baird led the Tigers with a game-high 17 points while Helbig and senior Adam Jolly contributed 15 apiece.
Baird, whose 29 points boosted the Tigers over Northfield, is eager to compete in the Great 8 for the first time in is career.
"It's a lot to take in," the senior said. "I thought sophomore year we definitely should have been there, but we got smacked at home in the Sweet 16. I think this year we've learned from the previous three and knew what it took to improve."
The Lancers were led by junior Tijani Bamba, who finished with 16 points, and Kwaheem Brown, who contributed 12 points.
For the Tigers, Wednesday's victory made history and will be a new benchmark for a team formerly known as champions — but before this feel-good story can come to an end, the Tigers have a few more chapters to write.
Holy Family will face No. 5 Mead on Saturday at home, a 1 p.m. tip.
"We know them and they know us," Villecco said about HFHS' next opponent. "We need to find ways to stop them — which isn't easy — but we're going to prepare over these next two days to be ready for them on Saturday."
Holy Family 65, Abraham Lincoln 54
At Holy Family HS
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (18-7)
Veazy 1, 0-0, 3; Bamba 4, 6-6, 16; Brown 5, 0-0, 12; Foster 5, 1-2, 11; Perez 1, 0-0, 3; Felton 3, 3-4, 9; Torres 0, 0-0, 0; Abdikadir 0, 0-0, 0; Hernandez 0, 0-0, 0; Rodriguez 0, 0-0, 0; Kayumba 0, 0-0, 0; Gomez 0, 0-0, 0; Totals: 19, 10-12, 54.
HOLY FAMILY (21-4)
Nellis 5, 3-3, 13; Helbig 7, 1-1, 15; Baird 4, 6-6, 17; Green 1, 1-2, 4; Jolly 6, 3-5, 15; Becker 0, 0-0, 0; Pjenning 0, 0-0, 0; Bartoletti 0, 0-0, 0; Fernandez 0, 0-0, 0; Hammond 0, 0-0, 0; Campbell 0, 0-0, 0; Pierret 0, 0-0, 0; Totals: 23, 14-17, 64.
Score by quarters:Abraham Lincoln 14 11 7 22 — 54
3-point field goals — Lincoln (6): Bamba 2, Brown 2, Veazy, Perez; Holy Family (4): Baird 3, Green; Lincoln. Total fouls — Lincoln 15, Holy Family 8.