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Girls basketball: Lightning soaking second trip to finals in 3 years

Legacy's Courtney Smith powers up for a shot between Highlands Ranch defenders during Wednesday's state quarterfinals.
JEREMY PAPASSO
Legacy’s Courtney Smith powers up for a shot between Highlands Ranch defenders during Wednesday’s state quarterfinals.

BOULDER — When Kailey Edwards steps on to the court at the Coors Events Center for Legacy’s pregame warm-ups on Friday night, do not be surprised if the senior standout pauses for a moment to soak in the unique atmosphere.

After all, not many high school players become privileged to compete in a state championship game, let alone two in three seasons. The significance is not lost on the University of Denver-bound Edwards, who hopes to help the Lightning claim the title that eluded them two seasons ago when Legacy takes on Front Range League rival Monarch for the Class 5A championship on Friday at 8 p.m.

“This is an amazing thing. It’s surreal,” Edwards said. “There are so many people who would kill to be here. We made it my sophomore year, and that was one of the best (groups) of teammates I’ve ever played with. It’s the same thing for this team. We all want it so bad. As a senior, it means the world.”

Legacy will face a familiar foe in the Coyotes, who swept the season series in league play. Legacy fell 65-58 at home on Jan. 17 and failed to earn a series split one month later in the regular season finale, losing 66-54 at Monarch.

Edwards was brilliant in each contest, scoring 23 points both times while making 13 of 14 free throws and averaging 6.5 rebounds. However, much like during a semifinal win against Highlands Ranch on Wednesday, Edwards’ ability to lead the Lightning to a net-cutting ceremony might depend less on her own performance than the contributions of her teammates.

Against the Falcons, senior Emily Glen led Legacy with 18 points, none of them more crucial than the four consecutive free throws she knocked down in the final 22.5 seconds. Even more impressive was the play of freshman Courtney Smith, who made all eight of her field goal attempts. Smith and her older sister, junior Caitlyn Smith, combined to record 30 points and 19 rebounds against Highlands Ranch.

A similar effort by the Smiths might be exactly what the Lightning need to finally overcome the Coyotes, given that the sisters combined for a total of only 10 points during the teams’ previous two matchups.

“We know what we have to do,” Edwards said. “We know it’s going to be a really tough game and we just have to come out ready to play.”

If the Lightning’s heart-stopping journey over the past three games into the title match is any indication, Legacy (23-4) clearly will not be daunted by the big stage on Friday.

In the Sweet 16, Legacy survived in overtime against Denver East, the team that defeated the Lightning in the 2010 final. Legacy used a buzzer-beating layup by Edwards to advance past Doherty in the quarterfinals before outlasting defending state champion Highlands Ranch 64-61 on Wednesday.

“I think we’re pretty focused,” Legacy coach Craig Van Patten said. “We celebrated a little (after the semifinals) but we knew coming in that wasn’t our goal. Our goal wasn’t to get to the state championship. It was to win it. We’ve got to get back to work (Thursday) and be ready to play Friday.”

Pat Rooney can be reached at rooneyp@dailycamera.com

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