BOULDER — In an otherwise dreamy season, the Legacy girls basketball team had a sole thorn in its side.
The Monarch Coyotes.
Then the Lightning quickly fell behind the Coyotes by nine points Friday night in the Class 5A state championship at the Coors Events Center.
But somewhere between that point and the final buzzer, belief kicked in and never wavered. The result was Legacy’s first ever state title in the sport, a 58-51 triumph against the squad the Lightning couldn’t defeat in league play, but did when the stakes were at their highest.
“We came out a little flustered. I don’t know what the problem was, but we knew we could stick with this team,” said Legacy senior Kailey Edwards, who led all scorers with 20 points and added 10 rebounds. “We just wanted to show everyone, our fans, our families, that we’re not an underdog anymore.”
The Lightning (24-4) sure aren’t. After runner-up finishes in 2006-07 and 2009-10, Legacy proved the third time was a charm behind heady play and steady foul shooting down the stretch.
Legacy didn’t make a basket in the fourth quarter, but went 16-for-21 at the free-throw line. Edwards went 7-for-8 in the quarter and fellow senior Emily Glen 7-for-9.
Glen, who scored 16 points, also hit four big foul shots late in the semifinals against Highlands Ranch.
“I was just thinking that I have to do this for myself and for my team,” Glen said.
Legacy second-year coach Craig Van Patten entered with 43 career wins, a far cry from the 391 compiled by Monarch’s Gail Hook, a former CU player. Van Patten, a longtime Lightning assistant prior to taking over the reins last season, was able to improve to 44-8 when his team withstood a late push by the Coyotes that cut the Lightning lead to 52-51.
“We just talked about believing we can beat them, and that the first two times they beat us, it was more of us forcing our own mistakes,” Van Patten said. “A lot of those things, we knew we could fix.”
Monarch (22-6), which had a 12-game winning streak snapped, got 13 points from Ashton Davis and 11 from Rebecca Richmond. Inspired in the fourth quarter, Richmond had three steals that she converted into layups. The final one to cut it to 52-51 with under a minute to play.
Davis missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer with 16 seconds left and Legacy ahead 53-51, and the Lightning sealed the deal at the line.
Monarch leading scorer Alexus Johnson was checked all night by Legacy junior Caitlyn Smith, who limited the Grambling State-signee to 10 points (although she grabbed 12 rebounds).
“She’s just a threat to where you always have to be on your toes,” Smith said. “I just wanted to keep her under 15, because against Regis (in the semifinals), she scored 26. I was really happy with her only scoring 10.”
Smith’s sister, freshman Courtney, did not miss a shot in the final four. She went 8-for-8 against Highlands Ranch and 4-for-4 Friday, all in the third quarter. Included were two 3-pointers from the right wing.
“That’s her shot,” Caitlyn Smith said. “We worked on it all summer.” Although it would have happened either way, this marked the first Front Range League girls hoops champion since Horizon won 6A in 1993.
Things ended disappointingly for the Monarch senior trio of Richmond, Davis and Johnson, but Richmond’s late heroics nearly tipped the scales.
“My mind was free, and I think that was a problem in the first half,” Richmond said. “I was thinking too much. Going out there in the fourth quarter, I just played basketball.”
This time, though, Legacy was able to stay above water throughout Monarch’s inevitable late-game push.
“I don’t have a lot of words right now,” said an emotional Edwards, who will play at the University of Denver next season. “I’m just so happy to be part of such a great team and great community in Broomfield, and it’s just awesome that we brought it home Legacy.”
Legacy 58, Monarch 51
At Coors Events Center
Glen 2-11 11-13 16, Salaz 1-6 1-2 3, Edwards 3-12 12-14 20, Ca. Smith 2-5 3-4 7, Co. Smith 4-4 0-0 10, Lopez 0-1 0-0 0, Neeley 0-0 1-2 1, Kuyper 0-0 0-0 0, Paulson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-39 28-35 58.
Richmond 5-9 1-1 11, Davis 4-11 5-5 13, Eisler 5-10 0-2 10, Johnson 3-12 2-2 10, Williams 1-3 3-4 5, Dietz 0-0 0-0 0, Rohn 1-2 0-0 2, Malcolm Peck 0-7 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 11-14 51.
Score by quarters:
Legacy 6 22 14 16 — 58
Monarch 14 12 8 17 — 51
3-point field goals — Legacy (6): Edwards 2, Co. Smith 2, Glen, Salaz; Monarch (2): Johnson 2. Rebounds — Legacy 32 (Edwards 10), Monarch 37 (Johnson 12). Total fouls — Legacy 13, Monarch 23. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — None.