BROOMFIELD — The quarterfinals of the Class 4A state girls basketball tournament are never easy, even when a team is the No. 1 seed. Holy Family learned that the hard way when its visitor, No. 9 Grand Junction Central, gave the Tigers a run for their money on Tuesday night.
In the end, however, the hosts stayed true to their mission of another state title as the Tigers emerged victorious, 61-53.
The Tigers shared the scoring responsibility nicely as nine girls got on the board. Senior shooting guard Alyssa Wells paved the way with a behemoth 20-point performance, followed by seniors Tyler Whitlock and Daniella Hren, who each added 10 more.
“They have a lot of intensity,” Wells said. “Obviously, every team here wants to win. They had very quick guards. Our shots weren’t falling early and they were making their shots out of the gate, so it definitely put a lot of pressure on us in the first half.”
With the win, the Tigers advance to the Final Four to take on No. 4 Mullen, who defeated No. 5 Falcon 87-53 on the same night. The two teams will face off on Thursday in what’s looking to be quite the showdown.
“Knowing that we can stop a team on their run is really good for us because it gives us the confidence for the next team,” Wells added. “Mullen and Falcon are great teams, so either one, we have a big challenge coming up.”
Holy Family, of course, is looking to return to the 4A championship after COVID-19 snubbed their chance of winning another state title last year. The Tigers earned their way to the final matchup, but it was canceled before they got their opportunity to hang another banner in the gym.
After losing its first game of the season to Lutheran, Holy Family had been on a tear. The Tigers were outscoring their opponents by 455 total points and winning most of their contests by huge margins. Grand Junction Central didn’t feel like adding its name to that list.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of close games,” head coach Ron Rossi said. “We’ve probably had Lutheran, Windsor and this. This is only our third close game. It was really good to play when there’s more pressure and more intensity. It’s a really good learning experience.”
The Tigers entered the game strong as they relied on an ominous full-court presence to trip up the Warriors early. They built as much as a 12-point lead midway through the second quarter, 23-11, thanks in large part to numerous blocks and steals.
They could have built a house with all those blocks.
From that point on, however, Grand Junction Central’s offense and defense woke up, stopping Holy Family in its tracks as the Warriors ignited a significant run. It didn’t help that the Tigers had been struggling from downtown throughout most of the evening.
By halftime, the Tigers led by just one point at 26-25 — a lead that they briefly relinquished in the opening minutes of the second half. They regained their footing as the third quarter wore on, eventually finishing that frame with a narrow 44-39 lead.
Throughout the second half, the Tigers brought the aggression and, in turn, more fouls. They sent the Warriors into the bonus with 6:53 left in the game, spelling trouble for the home team. They cleaned up their game in the final minutes, however, as more of their inside shots fell and they slowly built up another lead.
Grand Junction Central proved to be one of the toughest tests for the Tigers all season, and it will only get harder from here. Rossi believes his girls have what it takes to take another 4A crown home.
“Anytime you’re getting to the last eight teams, everybody’s really tough and everybody thinks they belong in the Final Four,” Rossi said. “This group, this is their third Final Four in a row, so that was pretty exciting that we built on that. We’ve got to get back. We’ve got to get back because our motto is ‘Unfinished.’”