GOLDEN • Widefield coach Jim Mason’s retirement party, one that’s been four decades in the making, is officially on hold.
Aaliyah Ricketts and the Gladiators are busy throwing quite the bash of their own.
Ricketts rescued Widefield from heartbreak while extending her coach’s storied career, as she calmly swished a contested game-winning jumper with two seconds remaining to lift the Gladiators past Golden 50-49 on Friday in the 4A playoffs’ quarterfinals.
When asked about his future afterward, Mason acknowledged that he will retire as the girls’ basketball coach at Widefield after 22 years.
“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and I’ve had great kids, and I’ve enjoyed Widefield High School and what it’s provided me through my teaching career, coaching career,” said Mason, who notched career win No. 317 at Widefield. “I’m just going to ride out in the sunset and ride on these girls’ coattails.”
Setting the stage for Ricketts’ heroics, the Gladiators (21-5) had gone scoreless for 5:45 as Golden (21-5) erased an eight-point deficit to take a 49-48 lead with 15 seconds remaining.
With no timeout called, Ricketts took a few dribbles just inside midcourt as the clock ticked down to six seconds. She darted left to the baseline and released the winner over two extended defenders.
“As soon as we finished practice (Thursday), I said ‘Coach, they have good paint players, good post. I’m going to have to be able to pull up that shot instead of get the layup,” said Ricketts, who led the Gladiators with 18 points. “That’s what we focused on with our wings,”
Ricketts pointed to her spot on the court: “Practice. That was definitely it.”
Mia Johnson’s desperation 3 from just inside midcourt went in for Golden — but the shot was quickly waved off because it was released after the horn.
“I was waiting on the refs to call it,” said senior Charisse Fairley, who finished with 16 points. “When they said it was no shot, I was really excited because we made it to the Final Four.”
Widefield knew the sinking feeling all too well after it had its season ended in the first round on Thomas Jefferson’s buzzer beater last year.
The Gladiators are streaking into the Denver Coliseum as the lowest seed among the four teams remaining. They will face No. 6 Evergreen in their first semifinals appearance since 2001 and their third appearance in Mason’s tenure, per the coach.
“We’re just going to take one game at a time, we’re going to line up and if our best effort isn’t good enough then we’ve had a hell of a season,” Mason said. “If it’s good, we just keep going.
“We just keep going.”