Tigers grow up
Brandon leads young GJ team into second round of playoffs
The young Grand Junction High School girls basketball team took the next step.
The Tigers, with no seniors, picked up the first Class 5A playoff victory for most of the players on the current roster with a 51-32 win over Mountain Range on Tuesday night at Grand Junction. The Tigers’ most recent playoff victory was in 2011.
Grand Junction (19-4) advances to the second round to play at No. 4 seed Rock Canyon (17-6). The game time for Friday’s game will be set today.
“It’s awesome having such a young team,” said sophomore point guard Sydni Brandon, who led the Tigers with 14 points. “We’ll all be here next year, but it would be nice to get the feeling of going far this year knowing we can go even further next year.”
It wasn’t pretty at times, with the teams combining for more than 20 turnovers in the first half. Grand Junction led 18-13 at halftime.
“We played like a young team in the first half, but to their credit they pulled together,” Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said. “Halftime wasn’t fire and brimstone. It was trying to solve the problem. I thought our kids responded well. They made that run and I don’t think we panicked. That was a big thing.”
Brandon got the Tigers going in the third quarter, scoring on a drive and making an and-one free throw. Two possessions later, she scored again, putting Grand Junction up 23-13.
The Mustangs (8-16) didn’t quit, going on a 10-0 run late in the third quarter to get within two points, 27-25, but the young Grand Junction team wasn’t fazed.
“The kids didn’t panic,” Provenza said. “That’s to their credit. That’s the kids having the presence of mind to say we’re still in control of the game.”
The Tigers started to attack the basket and went to the free-throw line nearly every possession the rest of the way.
Grand Junction shot 28 free throws in the second half, making 20. Grand Junction made 28 of 44 foul shots for the game.
“We had to get going,” Brandon said.
“I had to raise our energy level. Eighteen points in the first half and we scored over 30 in the second half. We raised our energy level and got it done.”
Ironically, the Tigers got two more free throws after Mountain Range coach Chyrisse Domenico received a technical complaining about the foul count.
On the other end, Grand Junction limited Mountain Range, located in Westminster, to one shot most trips. The Mustangs were 1 for 11 shooting in the fourth quarter.
“We exhausted a lot of defense during the game,” Provenza said. “We ran our full-court press, our traps, a two-three for a while. Finally, we got back and decided to run our matchup (zone), which has been good to us for a few years now.
“The kids started to understand the rotation and (Mountain Range) started taking quick shots. The other part was we rebounded in the fourth quarter. They’d get an offensive rebound and kick it out and shoot a 3. That kills you.”
The victory came with a price.
Junior Bri Baldwin twisted her left ankle midway through the fourth quarter and spent the rest of the game on the bench with ice on the ankle.
“We’ll have to see what happens there,” Provenza said of Baldwin. “She’s such a great defender. She was always going to defend their best perimeter player. We played with a long bench all season long. The kids know someone will step up for her. It could be a tweak and she’d be ready to go (Friday). We’ve got kids that will go out there and do what they can for Bri.”