ENGLEWOOD — The Longmont Christian Warriors needed two wins at Englewood High School to advance to the Class 1A state tournament. Their run began with a 50-31 win over Haxtun on Friday to advance to Saturday’s regional final with the Mile High Academy Mustangs.
An upset was hanging in the balance for most of the game, but Mile High Academy shut that down in the second half and pulled away for the 67-51 win to eliminate Longmont Christian from the postseason.
“These guys have a lot of heart and they keep coming,” Longmont coach Jim Powell said. “They don’t quit.”
Making things tough for Longmont Christian was the height and lengthy of the roster from Mile High Academy. Blake Essex towered over everyone on the court at 6-foot-8 locked down the paint in the Mustangs’ zone defense. Along with him were Andrew Frain at 6-foot-4 and Ryan Folkenberg at 6-foot-3.
The height played a big part in the 9-0 run for the Mustangs to start the game because Longmont Christian was altering shots inside and settling for contested looks over the top from the perimeter. Powell called an early timeout to settle his team down and send a message to not play differently despite the height they were up against.
“The height at that point was hurting us, but it was more mental I thought,” Powell said. “The timeout was just to refresh what we talked about before the game about the things we wanted to do.”
His message was received and Longmont Christian stormed back into the game with a 10-2 run led by guards Ryan Shellenberger and Nick Holst. The duo hit perimeter shots and broke down the zone defense with dribble penetration to get open looks for their teammates.
As the game continued, each team went on their own scoring runs. Mile High Academy extended its lead with Essex inside and open perimeter jump shots falling against the zone defense they faced, but Longmont Christian prevented the lead from getting out of reach behind its two guards scoring and Kyle Saunders getting steals on defense that resulted in transition looks.
“We played with patience and good ball movement looking for good shots,” Powell said. “They handled themselves really well in those times.”
Holst and Shellenberger kept the Warriors close and facing a 31-24 deficit at the half, and then made some shots early in the second half to pull within four points.
In the end, the size and length from Mile High Academy prevailed thanks to a pair of scoring runs in the third and fourth quarter that got the lead to double figures. Essex finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds for a double-double and Frain scoring 13 points for the Mustangs.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, Longmont Christian called timeout and used it to honor the seniors on the team. The group lined up on the court facing the Longmont Christian faithful in the stands to receive one final ovation on the season.
“They are awesome,” Powell said of his seniors. “They have great hearts and are all great students. They bought into the idea of working hard.”
Shellenberger led the Warriors with 17 points and Holst added 12 in the loss.