Lewis Palmer Earns State Championship in Dramatic Fashion
BOULDER—In a gritty, hard-fought, pulse-pounding championship game for the ages, the Lewis-Palmer Rangers edged the Sierra Stallions 44-43 at the Coors Event Center to win the 4A state title.
Powered by the performance of Boulder-bound blue chip Josh Scott, and a gigantic late game 3-pointer by Justin Smith, the Rangers captured their second-ever state title, and first since 1994.
Scott led the way with 23 points and 5 rebounds. Smith only had seven points, but nailed a huge 3-pointer with 35 seconds left that broke a 41-41 tie.
“Originally it was a play call for Josh inside. But Josh told me in the huddle. Shoot it if you are open. He told me that. And I drained it,” said Smith.
Lewis Palmer coach Russ McKinstry elaborated on all the hard work that Justin has put in that paid off in crunch time.
“That kid is in the gym every morning at 6:30 am shooting in the gym. And that’s why,” said McKinstry.
With Lewis- Palmer clinging to a late 3-point lead, the end of the game was filled with drama. Sierra cut the deficit to 44-43 with two Deon Wilson free throws. Sierra then pressed, stole the ball, and with a chance to take the lead, Jalen Little came up a little short with a left-handed lay-up. Scott pulled down the rebound and was immediately fouled. But he missed both free throws on the other end, leaving the door open once again for Sierra.
Sierra’s Sheron Wilson heaved a long 3-pointer that was on line, but bounced off the front rim. The Rangers then flooded the court in pure elation.
“It was scary when we didn’t hit our free throws, but in the end it all worked out,”
said Smith. “This is amazing. Such a relief. We have worked so hard this year. This is great. I feel amazing.”
McKinstry echoed his player’s thoughts on what this championship means to his team.
“Nothing even compares. The kids made the whole school and the whole program so proud. All year long. We have played unselfish, played our roles and used our poise,” said McKinstry.
“It’s not why you do it (coaching), but when you get it (a championship), it feels unbelievable. Because you know how hard the kids work, how hard your assistants work, so the pay off for all of them is what makes it so special.”
Playing in the front of a packed house at the Coors Event Center, the contest was a back and forth, seesaw affair. They were 13 lead changes and seven ties, and no team was ever leading by more than seven points.
“We knew we had to play. We knew they were going to scratch and claw their way back into the ball game and make a run. We knew we wanted to make the last run and we did a pretty good job of that,” said Scott.
Scott is correct. Sierra was leading 41-38 with less than two minutes left. Scott was fouled and headed to the line. He made one free throw, missed the second, followed his shot, corralled the rebound, and banked in the put-back, thus tying the game.
“My coach always said don’t give up on shots. And I was missing short. My legs were pretty much gone by the time the fourth quarter came around,” said Scott, who made only 3 of 9 free throws from the line.
Lewis-Palmer got a stop on the other end, and then Smith connected on the biggest bucket of his life on the ensuing possession.
This game was a defensive battle between two complete teams, each sporting a dominant big man. The much-hyped match-up between Lewis-Palmer’s Josh Scott and Sierra’s Wesley Gordon did not disappoint. The two big men went toe-to-toe in the trenches all game long, with Scott getting the upper hand on this night.
Gordon only had 9 points, but he did grab 12 rebounds, and had five blocks. He only took 5 shots though, compared to 16 shot attempts by his counter-part.
“Wes is a great, great player. Underrated scorer, great defender. Just a great player,” said Scott, who will be on the same team as Gordon next year, when they both attend the University of Colorado for hoops.
“We’re excited to play with each other. Hopefully we can start working out together in the Springs so we can dominate together next year.”
Before Scott has to worry about his future plans, he should be able to enjoy this victory, which was Lewis Palmer’s (27-1) 27th straight win to end the season.
Sierra (26-2) only lost two games this year. Both were to a Colorado Springs rival Lewis-Palmer.
“It’s just such a great accomplishment. Right now I am so exhausted, but I am so happy. It’s just the greatest feeling. I am also glad we got this for Coach McKinstry and all the coaches. It’s just a great, great feeling,” said Scott, sporting a huge state-championship smile.
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