Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer
Daily Camera file photo
DENVER — Holy Family punched its ticket back into the Class 4A state finals in front of an intimate crowd and to the regale of its fans following from afar Thursday night.
“I have a bunch of family who were going to come who are watching online,” Tigers junior Cecilia Aanerud said. “I have a bunch of family from out of state watching it online, too.”
Inside a sparsely-filled Denver Coliseum mandated due to the growing reach of the coronavirus, the seventh-seeded Tigers continued their defensive lockdown of the 4A state field in a 38-31 win over No. 3 Green Mountain.
For now, Holy Family is scheduled to face defending champ Mullen Saturday at noon as it attempts to win its first title since 2014 and seventh in program history.
Afterward, Tigers coach Ron Rossi went from a tone of celebration, noting that his team will be excited about the prospect of getting a rematch of the Mustangs, who beat them by 22 in last year’s semifinal. Then, reality.
“Let’s just hope we get to play Saturday,” he said. “It’s scary. You want everybody healthy and hope nobody gets sick from this thing today.”
Altering the sports landscape, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the postponement or cancellation of professional sports. The NBA, MLB and NHL suspended action while the NCAA nixed March Madness, cancelling the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments.
But the state’s basketball championships continued, albeit with restrictions. On Wednesday, CHSAA announced that no fans would be permitted into state basketball events before reneging to allow each player to have a maximum of four guests. That was followed by Thursday morning’s decision to suspend spring sports until April 6.
Four semifinals games took place at the Coliseum Thursday with the 4A girls preceding 5A. The limited spectators were allowed in the arena for their permitted game, then were ushered out before allowing the next group of fans inside.
“We were really bummed out that all our fans weren’t here today,” Aanerud said. “We kind of just had to look forward and move on.”
Holy Family (21-6) and Green Mountain (24-3) each had a small crowd behind its bench in lieu of the usual massive droves that fill up the Coliseum for the tournament.
Each team stuck to its defense-first identity, too.
The Rams didn’t score for the first 6 minutes, 11 seconds of the game, and the Tigers went scoreless for the opening 5:18 of the second half. Green Mountain shot 25 percent from the field and was 2-for-10 from 3-point range. Holy Family shot 22 percent and hit just one 3-pointer in 18 chances.
“We made only one,” Rossi laughed. “And that’s one of our strengths and it disappeared. But what got us back is our defense. My kids take a lot of pride in defense.”
Holy Family extended its lead to 25-17 on Alyssa Wells’ lone make from behind the arc early in the fourth quarter, then Aanerud made it 27-20 with 4:28 remaining.
Green Mountain pulled within 33-29 with a pair of free throws with 46 seconds left before Wells and Dylan Sanders sealed things from the line, going 5-of-6 in the final 35 seconds.