NIWOT — Cody Heimann thought he was done playing high school basketball. His coaches and teammates thought the same.
When doctors diagnosed the broken scaphoid bone in Heimann’s right wrist in December, they told him as much. So when he had his cast removed Monday and got cleared to play for the first time in more than eight weeks, he and everyone in the program got a nice little boost on the eve of the Class 4A state playoffs.
Despite dropping four of their last six regular season games, the Cougars played like a team riding high on Tuesday night with a 71-60 victory over Vista Ridge that wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
Heimann started and — though he played limited minutes due to being out of shape — he made an impact early with 10 of his 12 points coming in the first half to provide a tough 1-2 punch in the paint with team leader Henry Sebesta.
“It was definitely fun to play with him again,” said Sebesta, who scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds. “We’ve definitely missed him out there. He’s great to have. He’s great in transition. He’s great on the boards. Even if he’s not 100 percent right now, he’s helping a lot.”
The playoff victory was Niwot’s first in four years and came at the end of a season in which the Cougars dealt with several injuries.
The Cougars (13-11) — seeded seventh in the Bill Weimar Region — travel to face second-seeded D’Evelyn (20-2) on Friday for a trip to Saturday’s sweet 16.
“I’m really excited for the kids,” second-year Niwot coach Travis Maron said. “I think they understood where we were and what the importance was, and then having Cody kind of come out of nowhere and come back … I’m happy for him, being a senior.”
Of all the early setbacks for NHS, the loss of Heimann had been the toughest to take. The 6-foot-4 senior had figured to be one of NHS’ top players after averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season.
He showed his athleticism and versatility Tuesday, grabbing four rebounds and scoring early on a putback, 8-foot floater and then a pair of layups to start the second quarter and give the Cougars a 29-9 lead.
“It’s just great to be back on the court,” Heimann said. “I didn’t think I’d get this opportunity, so I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Sebesta and Heimann weren’t the only Cougars scoring inside.
The Niwot guards got in the act as well, driving to the bucket against an athletic Vista Ridge squad for several easy scores. The Cougars hit just two 3-pointers, but they shot 61 percent (28 for 46) unofficially from the field.
Niwot also out-rebounded Vista Ridge (12-12) — a fourth-year school playing in the postseason for the first time — 28-16, an edge that was particularly helpful on the offensive end.
“We didn’t rebound the ball very well,” said Vista Ridge coach Dick Castle, whose team was led by 13 points from reserve guard Matt Gleeson. “We didn’t play very good post defense, and that was the difference in the game for the first half. They just played a little harder than we did.”
Leading by 14 at halftime, the Cougars pushed their lead back to 20, 60-40, by the end of the third quarter. A layup by Nate Merriman, the third Cougar in double figures with 10 points, made it 62-40 to start the fourth. Niwot never looked back.
“It feels pretty great,” Sebesta said. “Great energy from the fans. It just feels good to get that first-round win.”
Niwot 71, Vista Ridge 60
At Niwot HS
VISTA RIDGE (12-12)
Gillette 1 0-0 3, Whaley 0 2-2 2, Gleeson 5 0-2 13, Jackson 3 0-1 6, Torres 3 3-4 10, Haley 0 0-0 0, Green 2 1-1 5, McKenzie 3 2-2 8, Bellot 0 1-2 1, Copeland 6 0-1 12. Totals 23 9-15 60.
Lee 3 0-3 6, Keeler 2 2-3 6, Janzen 0 0-0 0, Merriman 5 0-0 10, McCaddon 2 1-2 7, Sebesta 8 6-7 22, Heimann 6 0-1 12, Ogez 2 4-6 8. Totals 28 13-22 71.
Score by quarters:
Vista Ridge 9 15 16 20 — 60
Niwot 25 13 22 11 — 71
3-point field goals — Vista Ridge (5): Gleeson 3, Gillette, Torres; Niwot (2): McCaddon 2. Total fouls — Vista Ridge 22, Niwot 13. Fouled out — McKenzie. Technicals — None.