Ralston Valley’s return trip to Final 4 blocked by Creek

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DENVER — Ralston Valley girls basketball coach Jeff Gomer admitted getting a deep and talented Cherry Creek team on the Mustangs’ side of the state bracket wasn’t ideal.

Ralston Valley had defeated Cherry Creek twice already during the regular season on the girls basketball court, but in the Class 5A state quarterfinals March 3 at the Denver Coliseum the Bruins finally had the Mustangs’ number. The 5A Jeffco League champion and No. 4-seeded Mustangs saw their season come to an end with a 56-39 loss to No. 12 Cherry Creek.

“We had a little higher goals that we didn’t get, but it doesn’t change what they have done and the kind of kids they are,” Gomer said of his players. “I guess almost everyone loses their last one except for one team.”

The Mustangs’ four seniors — Ashley Van Sickle, Michaela Shaklee, Chloe Gillach and Sarah Bevington — had their 24-game winning streak snapped, along with Ralston Valley’s season come to an end with an 24-2 record.

“Nobody wants to lose, especially in the Great 8,” said Van Sickle, who will play hoops at Montana State University next school year. “We had the best team Ralston Valley has ever had in its history. We didn’t really show up today. It sucks.”

Over the last four-year stretch where Van Sickle was the Mustangs’ leading scorer all four seasons, the Mustangs had an 86-19 record. Ralston Valley advanced to the Sweet 16 once, Great 8 twice and Final 4 last year. The hopes for a return trip to the state semifinals were dashed in the first of four 5A state quarterfinal games played Friday at the Coliseum.

“Our shots didn’t fall,” said Bevington, who led the Mustangs with 14 points in the loss. “I guess we really can’t control that. It was bad timing.”

It was that simple. The shots just wouldn’t fall for Ralston Valley. The Mustangs shot 26.5 percent (13-for-49) from the field in scoring a season-low 39 points.

“It’s a different atmosphere at the Coliseum, but that isn’t an excuse,” Van Sickle said. “We shot a lot all week at practice. Basketball is a weird sport. We had good looks. They just didn’t fall.”

Gomer said the Mustangs’ ball movement wasn’t good enough. There was too much ‘one-on-one stuff’ Gomer added.

Ralston Valley never led in the game. Cherry Creek junior Sydney Mech had a monster game with a season- and game-high 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. The 6-foot-1 junior was 4-for-6 from 3-point range.

“That was the one change they made. She was able pick and pop (3-pointers),” Gomer said of using Mech on a high-pick. “We knew they were going to come after us. They were better tonight.”

Van Sickle hit her first 3-pointer of the game to close out the third quarter and bring the Mustangs within 38-29, but Ralston Valley went on an offensive dry spell midway through the fourth quarter. Cherry Creek (19-7) went on a 16-5 run to close out the game.

“We played well enough defensively to win. We just didn’t score like we can. It’s our fault,” Gomer said. “I’m disappointed with how we finished. I felt like we were always clawing from behind.”

Despite the loss, the prep career isn’t done yet for Bevington. The senior will be on the soccer pitch and compete on Ralston Valley’s track and field team this spring. Bevington admitted she wishes she had one more week on the hardwood before transitioning to the spring season.

“I love all four seniors. I love all five starters. We have such great team chemistry,” Bevington said. “I’ve worked hard to get where we are. I don’t regret being with them at RV.”

Jeffco rival Lakewood (21-5) will get a crack on Cherry Creek in the state semifinals this week. The Tigers advanced to their first Final 4 in the program’s history with a 61-49 upset victory against top-seeded Highlands Ranch a few hours after Ralston Valley’s season ended.

Cherry Creek and No. 9 Lakewood play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9, at the Denver Coliseum.

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