DENVER — The Broomfield girls basketball team won six state titles in 20 seasons under head coach Mike Croell but over the past several years, the Eagles' status as one of Colorado's dominant programs had begun to fade.
Sure, Croell remembers those days, but all the current Broomfield students are more familiar with the sub-.500 record the Eagles have posted over the past two seasons. This winter's group set out to restore the Eagles to their rightful place among the state's best teams, and that drive propelled the Eagles all the way to the Class 5A Great 8 before their run ended in a 53-23 loss to No. 1 seed Highlands Ranch on Friday night at the Denver Coliseum.
As the leading expert on the way things were in the Eagles' glory days, Croell feels like the Eagles are back.
"They've wanted to have a great season," Croell said. "They had goals and I think they surpassed those goals. They made basketball relevant again. It was slipping under their watch and I don't think they liked that. They weren't pointing any fingers, they just worked their butts off and they did what they did."
As the lowest seed remaining in the state quarterfinals, the No. 9 Eagles (22-4) hung around with the Falcons (25-1) for a half. That's saying something considering the Falcons have not lost to any team from Colorado this season and have allowed an average of just 20.8 points in their past four games.
Trailing 26-18 at halftime, however, the Eagles scored just five points in the second half and fell behind when the Falcons outscored them 15-3 in the third quarter to lead by 20 points to start the fourth.
"Well, we scared them for a half," Croell said. "They girls played their butts off. Just, eventually, their two big post players started clicking and I think they outscored us just the two of them. Then when they're knocking down shots, and they play such good defense and get a hand on everything, they're awfully tough.
"In some cases, it's just a matter of physics. But we gave them all that we could and I'm really proud of the girls."
Broomfield senior Steph Peterson (15.2 ppg), who finishes her prep career with 1,046 points, led the Eagles with six points on Friday night. Sophomore forward Courtney Wristen (12.4 ppg) finished with five points and six rebounds.
Highlands Ranch, which lists six players at 5-foot-10 or taller, proved to be overpowering and got a combined 30 points from 6-foot-1 forwards Autumn Watts and Kasey Neubert. Falcons senior guard Jamie Bain added 13 points.
Highlands Ranch moves on to face the winner of Friday's late game between No. 4 Cherry Creek and No. 5 Fossil Ridge in the Final 4 next Thursday.
Highlands Ranch 52, Broomfield 23
At The Denver Coliseum
Peterson 2 1-2 6, Keeler 1 0-0 2, Wristen 2 0-0 5, Putsch 0 0-0 0, Rich 1 0-0 3, Hoffman 1 0-0 2, Young 1 0-0 3, Abeyta 0 0-0 0, Pennington 0 0-0 0, Felknor 0 0-0 0, Belton 0 0-0 0, Burgesser 1 0-0 2. Totals 9 1-2 23.
HIGHLANDS RANCH (25-1)
Muma 1 3-4 5, Bain 5 0-0 13, Leeper 0 0-0 0, Horton 0 0-0 0, Kngsford 0 0-0 0, Watts 4 5-6 14, Mitchell 0 1-2 1, Ray 0 0-0 0, Neubert 7 2-4 16, Martinez 0 0-0 0, Beck 2 0-0 4. Totals 19 11-16 53.
Score by quarters:Broomfield 5 13 3 2 — 23
3-point field goals — Broomfield (4): Peterson, Wristen, Rich, Young; Highlands Ranch (4): Bain 3, Watts. Total fouls — Broomfield 15, Highlands Ranch 8.