FREDERICK – The same group of Frederick boys basketball players that lost to Sierra in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament on Wednesday night won just one game two seasons ago in 2017-18.
It took a lot of commitment for the Warriors to stick with the program and build it back to the point where they were rightfully disappointed in the Stallions’ 53-46 win because they believed they should have advanced.
The game marked the second straight winter the Warriors’ season ended in a first-round playoff loss, this one at home stinging a bit more. But a team losing a playoff game in its own gym means it earned the right to play there as the higher seed. And for the Warriors, building from a solitary victory to its current position has been an admirable undertaking.
“The truth of the matter is these are the same guys that won one game,” Warriors head coach Enoch Miller said. “Half of them could have just quit basketball. When you go through something like that, it’s horrible. It’s just horrible. It takes you to a bad place. Instead of giving up, they fought back and made us legitimate again to the point where we feel like we should win games like tonight’s.
“I’m disappointed we lost, and I know they are, too. But I’m proud of them for what they’ve done for this program. They put us back on the map.”
No. 26 Frederick (14-10) trailed No. 39 Sierra (10-13) by two points, 21-19, at halftime. Sierra opened the second half on a 6-0 run and led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter before Frederick eventually pulled within five to start the final frame.
Down 33-28 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Warriors fought their way back into the game and junior guard Izayah Elize hit a 3-pointer that cut the Stallions’ lead to one point with 3:44 remaining. But the visiting team’s lead quickly ballooned back up to seven and though Frederick senior Jake Green made a layup that brought the Warriors back within three in the final minutes, Sierra was solid enough at the free throw line to finish out the game.
“We fought back and gave ourselves a chance at the end,” Miller said. “But the story of the night was just their on-ball defense. We’ve been able to get to the rim most games, even against some of the best teams in our league. We just couldn’t do that and create good shots for ourselves against them. Their defense was tremendous and it affected us.”
Sierra senior Imani Grigsby (16.5 ppg) led all scorers with 23 points. Sierra’s stifling defense held Frederick senior Joe Cartelli, who averaged a team-high 15.7 points a game during the regular season, to just five. Green led the Warriors with 16 points, including a dozen in the second half, and Elize scored 10.
Sierra will play No. 7 Harrison (18-4) in the second round on Saturday afternoon in Colorado Springs. Frederick will go back to the drawing board and continue its search for the program’s first playoff victory since 2013-14.
“We’ll just keep working,” Miller said. “And that playoff win, it’s coming.”