DENVER • From a tight corner of the court at the Denver Coliseum, Lewis-Palmer stood and watched Saturday as Valor Christian was crowned the Class 4A state champion in boys’ basketball.
In the end, whether it was after one of their 19 straight wins or in defeat, the Rangers had found a home outside the spotlight.
“I think being overlooked was the best part of the season,” senior Drew Blomberg said after the No. 6 Rangers fell 68-55 to the No. 1 Eagles in the 4A championship game. “I think being overlooked and being the underdog, and then coming out and drilling (teams) was the best part of the season.”
The Rangers (23-5) certainly made a habit of overachieving after losing all five starters from last season. In the same league as Division-I stars Hunter Maldonado and D’shawn Schwartz, the Rangers quietly strung together wins from Jan. 11-March 10.
Kayle Knuckles had 32 points, Jalen Sanders scored 18 and the Eagles (24-4) led from start to finish on Saturday. They shot 53 percent and put a wrench into L-P’s offensive machine with a devastating press defense.
Sophomore Joel Scott, meanwhile, played through flu-like symptoms for the second game in less than 24 hours, and finished with 15 points. Blomberg added 13 points and Angelo Battistelli had 12.
“We just didn’t execute,” Scott said. “Valor is a great team. They have a ton of size and talent.”
In the final 1:08 of the first half, Blomberg splashed consecutive 3s to fuel a 9-2 run and Scott capped it with a three-point play to pull the Rangers within six, 27-21.
After that, Blomberg hit another jumper with 3:37 left in the third to make it 34-30 — but that’s as close as the Rangers would get. Knuckles answered with six quick points in a matter of moments and Sanders finished a drive to up the lead to 42-30.
Then in the fourth, Scott scored eight of his team’s first 11 points to trim the deficit back to nine. But Knuckles ran off another five points as part of a 7-0 run to make it 62-46 with 3 minutes remaining.
“Basketball is a game of runs and our coach uses the metaphor, ‘a boxing match,’” Blomberg said. “When we had to fight back we used all that fight power to get back in it. Then they punched back. We kept cutting down the deficit and they kept increasing the lead. It was very frustrating.”
The Rangers won’t remember this as a year of defeat, though.
After splitting a league title, beating D’Evelyn in two overtimes on the road in the quarterfinals and making their seventh semifinals in nine years, the Rangers came one win away from their first basketball title since 2013.
“I know a lot people thought, ‘Oh you know, L-P is going to be down this year,” Rangers coach Bill Benton said. “We knew we would be February and March ready. I think we got ready before even our expectations. I think these guys learned in wins and sometimes that’s hard to do.
“That’s what’s impressive about this group, they got better every day and found ways to show up and compete. They were never satisfied.”.