HIGHLANDS RANCH — Legacy coach Connor Clay thought last season’s nonconference schedule may not have adequately prepared his team for the speed and talent inside the Front Range League.
That’s not going to be an issue this season.
The Bolts continued down a brutal opening schedule with a fifth quality opponent in nine days, falling to ThunderRidge 77-42 in the first round of the Tip-Off Classic on Wednesday night.
The Lightning (0-5), still looking for its first win, have had quite the different start than last season when they won their first five games.
Strength of schedule may have something to do with it.
No excuses, though.
“I think every game is a learning opportunity for us,” Clay said. “We got our butts kicked tonight.”
Legacy’s first five teams on the schedule sport a 15-5 record and it includes last season’s runner-up George Washington (2-2) as well as a back-to-back semifinals team in the Grizzlies (3-0).
Through the gauntlet, the Lightning have done its best with only two true returning starters in Jack Olson and Jackson Stapleton. And outside of Wednesday’s whopper of a loss, they feel like they’ve improved each game.
“We have a lot of guys who don’t have a ton of varsity experience until this year,” said Olson, who had eight points against ThunderRidge. “Gavin (Poxson) has been awesome, Chase (Esplin) has been great, and just top to bottom we’ve been good with our new guys coming in. And Coach has done a good job getting those guys ready.”
Stapleton led Legacy with 12 points and scored the last five of an 8-0 run to cut into a big deficit early in the second quarter. Poxson and Stapleton swished consecutive 3s before the senior drove into the lane to make it 19-16 with 6:19 remaining before the half.
But ThunderRidge stretched out its lead late in the quarter led by the play of rising sophomore star Nolan Marold. The 6-foot-6 forward was effective scoring 14 points in the half. He drew a crowd of defenders as he drove into the lane in the waning seconds of the quarter before making a nice feed to Colton Sanders, whose 3 made it 38-24 as the buzzer sounded.
Then in the third, Legacy’s shooting went cold as it scored just once from the field. And in the fourth, the Grizzlies ran the lead to as many as 37.
“They do all the right things,” Olson said of ThunderRidge.
The Lightning will face the Far Northeast Warriors (4-2) for the second time this season back at ThunderRidge High School in Friday’s consolation round. The Warriors beat the Bolts in the first round of the postseason in February and then again Saturday.
Legacy is coming off a 14-10 season and an eighth-place finish in final Front Range League standings. The Lightning said a rough start to this year hasn’t obstructed the bigger picture.
“Our league year after year, there really isn’t a single dominant team that before the season starts you can look at and say they’ll be really good,” Olson said. “It’s whoever gets hot at the right time.
“I feel like with our league — and the experiences we’ve had and the teams we’ve played already — I feel like there’s a really good chance it could be us.”
Brent W. New: , firstname.lastname@example.org and @brentwnew
ThunderRidge 77, Legacy 42
At ThunderRidge HS
Converse 1 0-0 2, Poxson 3 1-1 9, Servantez 1 5-6 7, Sehr 0 0-0 0, Borelli 0 0-0 0, Olson 2 4-8 8, Weber 0 0-0 0, Stapleton 5 0-0 12, Esplin 0 2-2 2, Barrow 0 0-0 0, Huxtable 1 0-0 2.
Holt 3 0-0 6, Arnold 1 0-0 2, Franquemont 2 0-0 4, Marold 9 0-2 18, Smith 0 0-0 0, Snell 0 0-0 0, Berry 0 1-2 1, Mather 1 0-0 3, Sanders 3 0-0 9, Sax 7 2-5 16, Crawford 2 0-0 6, Keller 0 0-0 0, Verk 4 4-7 12.
Score by quarters:
Legacy (0-5) 8 16 6 12 — 42
ThunderRidge (3-0) 17 21 20 19 — 77
3-point field goals — Legacy (4): Poxson 2, Stapleton 2; ThunderRidge (6): Sanders 3, Crawford 2, Mather 1. Total fouls — Legacy 20; ThunderRidge 16. Fouled out — No players fouled out. Technical fouls — No technical fouls.