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  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Holy Family senior Kaitlyn McKenzie, left, tries to work around Mullen's Megan Pohs for a shot during their Class 4A semifinal game Thursday at the Denver Coliseum. Mullen was tough from the get-go in a 55-33 win, sending the Mustangs to Saturday's state title game. Visit BoCoPreps.com for more photos.

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    Holy Family's Alyssa Wells, right, takes a shot as Tigers coach Ron Rossi looks on Thursday at the Denver Coliseum.

  • Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer

    From left, Holy Family's Alyssa Wells, Noelle Gardon, Amanda Ward amd Genevieve Gudino wait out the final buzzer in the Class 4A semifinals on Thursday.

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DENVER — Despite being the lowest-ranked team remaining in the Class 4A girls basketball bracket, Mullen certainly didn’t look like a team fit for a Cinderella story. Touting a bunch of talented finishers, including a 6-foot-2 freshman phenom, the heavy-hitting Mustangs looked right where they belonged among the best teams at the Denver Coliseum.

And on Thursday, Holy Family had no answer for them.

“The bright lights were too bright for us,” said Tigers coach Ron Rossi, whose team fell 55-33 in the 4A Final Four.

It unraveled quickly: A harassing defensive effort from No. 14 Mullen (19-8) forced 12 turnovers in the opening half and kept the 2-seeded Tigers (21-6) off the scoreboard for a stretch of 8 minutes and 4 seconds during a dominating open.

Relentless, the Mustangs finished shooting over 43 percent from the field as freshman sensation Imani Perez — perhaps following in the footsteps of Regis Jesuit’s Fran Belibi as the state’s next big thing in girls’ hoops — led the way with nine points, 12 rebounds and six assists.

“They came out smoking and we were like scared rabbits out there,” Rossi said. “And that’s how we played early and set that tone. And we got in such a big hole, it just got deeper.

“Mullen is a very good team. They just have so many weapons.”

Yes, Rossi knew Mullen wasn’t your normal 14-seed. The Mustangs finished third in the 5A/4A Centennial League behind 5A Final Four teams Cherry Creek and Grandview. And of their eight losses, five were to 5A semifinalists (lost twice to Cherry Creek and Grandview and once to Regis) and the other three were to teams outside Colorado at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix.

Holy Family, with a stellar resume of its own — rattling off 14 straight wins to punch its ticket back to the Final Four for the first time since 2016 — had an ending that only felt sudden.

Genevieve Gudino tried to set the tone early on Thursday, draining a 3 before finishing a layup in traffic in the opening two minutes. From there, though, the Tigers went scoreless until the second quarter as Mullen scored 18 straight points to go up 21-5.

The Mustangs’ lead grew to as many as 18 in the half as they shot 11-for-24 from the field and 7-of-10 from inside the perimeter. Holy Family, just 5-of-17 from the field at the break, cut the deficit to 11 on Gudino’s 3 with 4:31 left in the third. But that’s as close as the Tigers would get.

“We were just so frazzled, and we were trying to push into doing stuff that we couldn’t do,” Gudino said. “We were forcing passes, we were making bad passes, our shots weren’t landing — we were just all over the place.

“And once you have that in your head, like, ‘Oh no, what’s going on,’ and they’re out making all their shots, and they’re playing good, and they’re playing as a team, our team started to die down and we weren’t playing our game. We just got caught up in the moment.”

The Tigers are expected to return all but three seniors from varsity next season, including three sophomore starters.

Afterward, Rossi said he was proud of his team’s run, citing the 66 other 4A teams that didn’t make it to the Coliseum. Gudino, meanwhile, was optimistic for the future.

“We realize if we made it here this year, then we can come back next year,” she said. “But next year when we plan to come back, we’re not planning on losing.”

Brent W. New: bwnew@prairiemountainmedia.com or twitter.com/BrentWNew

 

Mullen 55, Holy Family 33

At Denver Coliseum

MULLEN (19-8)

Pohs 4 0-0 11, Hart 0 0-2 0, Martinez 1 0-0 2, Dominguez 3 1-4 7, Oates-Stamm 1 0-0 2, Il. Perez 3 0-0 6, Webster 1 0-0 3, Elges 0 0-0 0, Gallegos 5 0-0 11, Oswald 0 0-0 0, Van Horn 2 0-0 4, Im. Perez 3 3-3 9. Team 23 4-9 55.

HOLY FAMILY (21-6)

McKenzie 1 1-2 3, Gudino 5 1-3 13, Thomas 0 0-0 0, Sanders 0 1-2 1, Wells 1 0-0 3, Giron 0 0-0 0, Gardon 1 0-0 2, Whitlock 1 4-5 6, Ward 2 0-0 4, Winters 0 0-0 0, Aanerud 0 1-3 1, Hren 0 0-0 0. Team 11 8-15 33.

Score by quarters:

Mullen                   19 10 8 18  — 55

Holy Family             5 10 7 11  — 33

3-point field goals — Mullen (5): Pohs 3, Webster, Gallegos; Holy Family (3): Gudino 2, Wells. Total fouls — Mullen 13, Holy Family 10. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — None.