Girls basketball: High-hopes Shining Mountain beats Denver Waldorf

Frances Hilliard scores nine points, just 50 shy of 1,000 career points

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    Shining Mountain's Frances Hilliard splits two Denver Waldorf defenders for a jump shot on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    Shining Mountain's Kalea Zeender drives along the baseline against Denver Waldorf on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021 in Boulder.

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    Shining Mountain's Olivia Jabari looks to pass against Denver Waldorf on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    Shining Mountain's Kalea Zeender goes for a layup around Denver Waldorf's Stazi Salazar on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    Shining Mountain's Frances Hilliard dribbles upcourt against Denver Waldorf on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.

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Shining Mountain’s trip to the state semifinals last season has been added to the girls’ basketball banner inside the high school gym.

It’s a proud accomplishment.

One that stings as well.

“We were super excited and riding a high from (the Great Eight win), then we learned that night the tournament was canceled,” reflected senior point guard Frances Hilliard, whose team was left stranded in the Class 1A Final Four when the state basketball tournaments were called off due to the pandemic last March. “We couldn’t get back into the gym really until the season, but a lot of us practiced on our own and used it for motivation to get back to where we were and see what would’ve happened, I guess.

“Have another try.”

Hilliard scored nine points, and the Lions shook off a slow start to beat Denver Waldorf 32-22 Tuesday night.

Sophia Matarrese added seven and Fiona Lovejoy had six as Shining Mountain (4-1, 2-1 1A 5280) worked through a mixed offensive performance with strong defense down the stretch to win for the fourth time in five games.

What began as a struggle to find much separation in the opening half against a team it’d dominated in its previous seven meetings, accumulated into a deficit in the third quarter. A stifling, turnover-driven defense took over from there, though, keeping Denver Waldorf scoreless for a 10-minute, 6-second stretch in the second half.

Hilliard hit a 3-pointer to tie things at 18-18 midway through the third and made a nifty pass on the break a little later during the team’s 17-4 finishing run. The senior is now 50 points shy of reaching high school’s prestigious 1,000-point club.

In the final minutes, consecutive buckets by Matarrese and Lovejoy pushed the lead to nine, 29-20, to seal things. The win followed the Lions’ lone loss of the year Saturday, falling to Flatirons Academy — the defending league champ.

“They definitely want to get back to that (Final Four) and prove they belong,” Shining Mountain coach Mike Hawkes said. “I think they have a lot of nerves about it right now.”

The Lions reached their first state tournament in program history last season. Then trumped that by moving into the semifinals thanks to Matarrese’s put-back winner over Fleming at the buzzer.

Pure elation.

To devastation.

It was announced later that night that the growing concerns surrounding the coronavirus would see an end to the remainder of each state basketball tournament.

More confusion arrived this winter as all teams were left in limbo as to when or if their season would happen. Reported virus numbers in Colorado soared in November, but have since dropped.

For the Lions, the return is a chance to build upon their best and perhaps most wanting finish in program history.

“That entire experience was incredible,” Matarrese said. “This year, we’re just going to have to use (last year’s end) as motivation and come back stronger and hope we get that opportunity again.”