Alex K.W. Schultz
Special to Colorado Community Media
The Mountain Vista and ThunderRidge boys basketball teams have authored plenty of great moments together throughout their decades-old rivalry.
But the Golden Eagles and Grizzlies’ latest production, an all-out war on Feb. 17 inside a loud and jam-packed ThunderRidge gymnasium, might very well have been the two programs’ magnum opus.
The crosstown rivals pounded on each other deep into the night. Thirty-two minutes of regulation wasn’t enough to settle things. Neither was overtime.
Finally, momentum swing after momentum swing, big play after big play, incredible moment after incredible moment, Vista prevailed 103-99 in double overtime in what was nothing short of an instant classic.
The win completed a perfect run in league play for the Golden Eagles, Colorado’s No. 1-ranked team. It was also Vista’s first win over ThunderRidge in three years.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of basketball games in my life. That was probably the best one,” Vista coach Brian Wood said. “It would be nice if nobody had to lose on a night like this.”
In the other locker room, longtime Grizzlies coach Joe Ortiz had something similar to say: “[ThunderRidge and Vista] have had a lot of classic games. This was one of them for sure.”
In the second overtime, Charlie Spann’s 3-pointer from the top of the key shaved Vista’s lead to 100-99 with 52 seconds remaining.
After a Golden Eagles timeout, Vista’s Radek Homer was fouled on a driving attempt and coolly sank both of his free throws.
Then, with less than 10 seconds left, Andrew Crawford’s would-be-tying 3-point attempt from the left wing seemingly went halfway down before coughing out.
Homer hit the back end of a pair of free throws on Vista’s ensuing possession to essentially seal the win for the Golden Eagles.
“That was one of the best high school games I’ve ever played in,” said Crawford, who was sensational all night, scoring a game-high and mind-boggling 48 points. “We fought hard. We almost got it.”
The final moments of regulation were as dramatic as any basketball game at any level could ever produce.
Spann connected on a mid-range jumper with 34 seconds left to spot ThunderRidge a 2-point lead at 72-70.
On Vista’s next possession, Cal Baskind buried a clutch 3-pointer to return the lead to Vista with 10 seconds to go.
Ortiz then called a timeout to set up one final play.
Ryan Doyle inbounded the ball to Crawford, whom the Golden Eagles tried to foul in the backcourt because they had three fouls to give, but no foul was called.
After making his way into the frontcourt, Crawford was fouled just beyond the arc as he flailed and heaved the ball somewhat toward the basket.
But did the foul occur on the floor? Was Crawford fouled while shooting? Was he shooting at all? The officials conferred and ultimately ruled that Crawford was indeed fouled while attempting a 3-point shot.
And so, the junior went to the line for three free throws with 3.8 seconds showing on the clock and his team trailing by one point.
Crawford’s first attempt bounced out. His second went through, knotting the score at 73-73. His third shot ricocheted off the left side of the iron, and off to overtime the two teams went. (It should be noted that Crawford was perfect from the free-throw line in the two overtime periods — he was 5-for-5 — to keep his team in it).
“They all felt good,” Crawford said. “They just rimmed out.”
The game appeared to be heading toward its end in the first overtime, but Crawford and the Grizzlies had other ideas.
A Baskind 3-pointer — one of the sophomore’s six triples on the night — stretched Vista’s lead to 88-81 with just 67 ticks remaining.
However, Crawford quickly responded with one of his own six treys. Moments later, the junior was fouled on a 3-point attempt and knocked down all three of his free throws to trim Vista’s lead to 89-87.
After an empty possession by the Golden Eagles, Crawford scored on a driving, twisting layup with 6 seconds left to force double overtime.
“We kept scoring, but they hit some tough shots and kept closing in,” said Homer, who scored a team-high 30 points for the Golden Eagles. “Andrew and Charlie hit some crazy shots. They’re amazing players.”
In regulation, the two teams went back and forth the whole way. They exchanged the lead 14 times, were tied on 14 separate occasions and were never separated by more than five points. Most of the night, only a point or two separated them.
Four players scored in double figures for Vista: Homer, Caden Stevens (29), Baskind (22) and Zach Bowen (10).
ThunderRidge’s leading scorers were Crawford, Spann (27) and Tommy Wight (10).
The Golden Eagles (21-2, 10-0 6A/5A Continental League) clinched the league title three nights before their duel with ThunderRidge — only their second league championship in program history — but have their eyes set on a bigger prize.
The Class 6A state tournament begins Feb. 22, and Wood believes his squad has a chance to go the distance. Vista, the No. 1 seed, will play 32nd-seeded Bear Creek (Lakewood) in a first-round game.
“It’s single elimination, so you never know,” Wood said. “But I feel like we’re definitely one of the teams that can win it.”
But don’t sleep on the Grizzlies (13-10, 4-6), who are young — they don’t have a single senior on the roster — but seem to be peaking at just the right time. ThunderRidge is also a program that is very familiar with the state tournament and has achieved enormous success there. In Ortiz’s 26 years leading ThunderRidge, the Grizzlies have been to the Great Eight 16 times, the Final Four 12 times and the championship game eight times. They’ve won the whole thing four times, including last year.
ThunderRidge drew a 13 seed and will take on No. 20 Eaglecrest (Centennial) in a Round 1 game.
“We just showed that we can play with anybody if we play like we did tonight,” Ortiz said. “Absolutely we believe [we can make a run in the playoffs].”