David Ramsey: Lewis-Palmer stampedes Pueblo South in 4A basketball semis, but Valor Christian awaits

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Photo - Lewis-Palmer's Billy Cook fights to keep the ball in bounds during the fourth quarter of the state semifinals. Lewis-Palmer advanced to the finals of the 4A Colorado Basketball State Championships at the Denver Coliseum on Friday, March 10, 2017. They defeated Pueblo South 58-45. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette
Lewis-Palmer's Billy Cook fights to keep the ball in bounds during the fourth quarter of the state semifinals. Lewis-Palmer advanced to the finals of the 4A Colorado Basketball State Championships at the Denver Coliseum on Friday, March 10, 2017. They defeated Pueblo South 58-45. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

DENVER - When Lewis-Palmer's starters walk on the court, their opponents are not left quaking with fear. The Rangers do not deliver an overwhelming physical presence.

Oh, but the fear soon arrives. Be sure about that.

The fear for opponents arrives after a few minutes of watching L-P's precise, disciplined, intelligent, balanced, impassioned and highly effective brand of basketball.

The Team Without A Star continued its rampage through Colorado with a convincing 58-45 win over Pueblo South in the 4A state semis. The victory, L-P's 19th straight, sets up a Saturday afternoon battle to rule the state against Valor Christian, also known as The Evil Empire of the North.

"We have no all-stars on this team," said point guard Drew Blomberg a few minutes after the victory. "People see us and they overlook us. They have no idea who our leader is."

They have no idea because the Rangers have no clear leader. The Rangers are, utterly and wonderfully, a true team.

"We have five guys, and we can all play," Blomberg said.

He speaks truth, although this truth was slow in revealing itself.

In early January, I watched the Rangers lose badly in their home gym against Sand Creek. At the time, the no-star approach was stalling. The team lacked elite offensive firepower and looked on their way to nowhere special.

But an elite defense was developing. The Rangers are the rare team, at any level, that brings greater devotion to defense than offense. This defense engulfed and conquered Vista Ridge's Hunter Maldonado and Sand Creek's D'shawn Schwartz.

This defense smothered Pueblo South on Friday night.

Eli Burkett led the Rangers with 14 points, followed by Blomberg's 13, Billy Cook's 12 and Joel Scott's 10. Balance, as usual, ruled the Rangers.

"We come out and we play hard and we play together, and that's the difference between us and almost every other team," Blomberg said.

We'll find out Saturday if the L-P difference works again. Valor Christian demolished Golden, 85-55, in the other semi. Valor is the state's No. 1 seed.

And Valor is, alas, Valor. The Eagles are, essentially, a collection of all-stars from Greater Denver who decided to study and play games at a posh suburban campus. Little in life is more fun than rooting against Valor, although this rooting usually ends in frustration. Valor almost always wins, in everything.

The Eagles can play. No doubt about that. Valor boasts a suffocating press and deep athleticism along with the same discipline that makes L-P soar.

Valor boasts, as usual, a deep roster of McCaffrey brothers, the sons of former Bronco star Ed McCaffrey. Dylan McCaffrey, the football star, scored 15 points for Valor against Golden, and his brother Luke added four.

L-P, a No. 4 seed, will be a slight underdog, but the Rangers should be prepared for the Valor press. All five of L-P's starters can handle the ball, and the Rangers don't wilt under defensive pressure.

This has, in many ways, been an unlikely ride for the Rangers. Coach Bill Benton lost five starters from a team that traveled to last season's state quarterfinals. The present-day Rangers spent last season watching instead of playing.

"Sitting on the bench helped us out a lot," Blomberg said.

Apparently, sitting the bench builds character, along with a wide assortment of other virtues.