BROOMFIELD — The Legacy girls basketball team is getting much better at this whole state tournament thing.
Nearly two seasons removed from a three-win campaign during the winter of 2015-16, the Lightning has now won first-round playoff games in back-to-back seasons. The 28th overall seed in both this and last-year's Class 5A playoff brackets, the Lightning won 53-39 at home against No. 37 Cherokee Trail on Tuesday night.
Last season's come-from-behind win over Pomona was tense. This year's victory was convincing.
"I'm just really proud of all of our girls and how we played," Lightning senior Anya Carlson said. "At times this season, we've struggled. But towards the end of the season, we definitely pulled it together. We're a lot more of a team now and we've worked so well together this year. I'm just really proud of the way we worked tonight."
The Lightning (13-11) lost five of its last seven regular-season games but managed to hold its final two Front Range League opponents under 40 points. When postseason play began on Tuesday, the Lightning continued their strong defense by limiting the visiting Cougars (8-16) to just four points in the first quarter and zero in the second.
The Cougars, who went 2 for 17 at the free-throw line, scored all but 12 of their points in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Destinee Paulk scored 12 of her game-high 16 points in the final frame.
"We were prepared and we came out strong and ready to go," Lightning senior Olivia Zamora said. "We kind of put in a new defense, 'pack line,' which is something we've never done before. That's really worked well for us this year, stopping drives and stuff like that. We struggled early on with dribble penetration and that defense pulls the team together, and we are a lot better when we're working together."
Legacy's Halle Mackiewicz scored seven of her team-high 15 points in the first quarter and the Lightning pulled away in the second to take a 21-4 halftime lead. Junior Isa Valenzuela hit both of the Lightning's 3-pointers in the second half and a 19-point third quarter in which six different players scored was all the Lightning needed to pull away from the Cougars.
The Lightning will face No. 5 Highlands Ranch in the second round on Friday.
"We're happy to be still playing and we're ready to get after it," Carlson said.
Legacy 53, Cherokee Trail 39
At Legacy H.S.
CHEROKEE TRAIL (8-16)
Collins 0 0-0 0, Sparks 2 0-5 4, Singleton 0 0-0 0, Jimenez 2 0-0 6, Neyland 0 1-4 1, Paulk 7 1-3 16, McLelland 0 0-0 0, Fason 4 0-4 8, Chirman 2 0-1 4. Totals 17 2-17 39.
Keaser 1 2-3 4, Zamora 4 1-4 9, Liversedge 2 0-0 4, Ahadi 2 2-2 6, Valenzuela 3 0-1 8, Baum 0 0-0 0, Mackiewicz 4 7-8 15, Carlson 3 1-4 7. Totals 19 13-22 53.
Score by quarters:Cherokee Trail 40827—39
3-point field goals — Cherokeee Trail (3): Jimenez 2, Paulk; Legacy (2): Valenzuela 2. Total fouls — Cherokee Trail 18, Legacy 16.