Widefield girls basketball coach Jim Mason said he set three goals for his team this year: Contend for a league title, secure a high enough seed in the state tournament for a first-round bye, and take his team to the Great Eight.
The No. 15 Gladiators checked off that second goal Friday night at home with a dominant 80-38 victory over No. 18 Fort Morgan. The win places Widefield in the Sweet 16, one victory away from a Great Eight appearance.
“Everybody’s got a good team, everybody’s got good players but to get to the final eight, get to go play in the (Denver Coliseum), those are special moments for these kids,” Mason said.
To get to Denver, the Gladiators have to beat No. 2 Holy Family in Broomfield on Tuesday, but for now, Widefield can bask in the second-round victory.
The Gladiators forced 29 total turnovers on the Mustangs, including 11 in the first quarter alone. Those Fort Morgan mistakes propelled Widefield’s dynamic duo of senior Charisse Fairley - who scored a team-leading 20 points, and junior Aaliyah Ricketts, who added 19 - to a monster opening quarter in which the two buried a trio of 3-pointers en route to a 24-8 lead for the Gladiators after one.
Widefield forced another six turnovers in the second quarter for a 43-15 lead at the half, which all but put the game on ice.
No Mustang pass was safe against the Gladiators’ defense and would frequently lead to a steal and points in transition for Widefield.
Mason said he caught a glimpse of Fort Morgan’s fatal flaw in the Mustangs’ first-round game against Longmont.
“I thought that we could create some issues for them with our pressure,” he said. “We just were in our regular defense, but I knew to just pressure up early. It was all about ball pressure.”
The Mustangs got things going in the third, finding senior forward Haley Lewis underneath the basket. Lewis scored four of a team-leading 14 points in the third for the Mustangs. Fort Morgan outscored Widefield 19-8 in the third but it wasn’t enough to make the Gladiators sweat.
Widefield recovered, scoring 29 in the final frame to finish the rout, moving them one step closer to their goal and maybe more. It’s a much better feeling for Fairley, who mentioned that Gladiators were eliminated in the first round on a buzzer-beater at Thomas Jefferson last season.
“Last year really hit us hard, losing on a buzzer beater so we’re trying to come strong this year and go as far as we can,” she said. “And I’m a senior so I really want to maybe get to that championship so it’s great.”