The Highlands Ranch Falcons (14-2, 8-1) are heading to the 2021 CHSAA 5A State Tournament Final Four for the 3rd time in the past five years. The Falcons defeated the Ralston Valley Mustangs (14-3, 7-1) 46-30 in a home game played on March 16.
This item is available in full to subscribers.
If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.
Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.
If you made a voluntary contribution in 2019-2020, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one at no additional charge. VIP Digital Access includes access to all websites and online content.
Highlands Ranch got off to a hot start thanks to an early 6-0 run sparked by junior power forward Alex Pirog, who scored the Falcons' first seven points. While Pirog went to work in the paint, Ralston Valley failed to answer, missing their first six field goal attempts.
Ralston Valley eventually answered with a McKenna Nichols floater to stop the Falcons' run. Saya Sabus — who led Ralston Valley with nine points — added a pull-up three pointer late in the frame to bring the Mustangs within striking distance, as they finished the first quarter down 11-9.
Nevertheless, the Mustangs were unable to capitalize on their rally in the second frame. Pirog made a few key defensive stops and was able to keep Ralston Valley's star point guard Sydney Bevington off the board in the second and held the Santa Clara commit to just six points in the game.
Guard Katie Johanning added five points in the second quarter to give the Falcons a commanding 27-13 lead going into halftime.
Any hope of a Mustangs comeback was dashed by an domineering third quarter showing from the Falcons, led by senior point guard and Gonzaga-bound Payton Muma.
Muma, who finished with a game-high 22 points, made an acrobatic reverse layup through contact in the third quarter's closing minutes and ended the frame with a decisive step-back buzzer-beater to give the Falcons a 37-23 lead going into the fourth.
“We weren't getting a lot of points in the third quarter, so I knew that I had to do something,” said Muma. “Shoutout to my teammates for getting me open and getting me the ball. My mindset was to just drive it and try to get a foul.
“For that shot, I knew there was only nine seconds left so I just went for it,” Muma said of her buzzer-beater.
The Falcons closed the game with a 9-7 fourth quarter punctuated by a catch-and-shoot three-pointer from Muma.
The win sets up a Final Four matchup between Highlands Ranch and Valor on March 18, while Ralston Valley's loss brings an end to the storied careers of the Mustangs' senior class, which made the Great 8 three times in four years.
“It was a good season,” said Ralston Valley Head Coach Jeff Gomer. “This group of seniors won a lot of games; three Great 8's. I just wish it would have ended better for them.”
Mustangs senior forward Alexia Zendejas said the loss signals the end of the road for a group that has been playing together since they were children.
“It was an honor to play here,” said Zendejas. “It's not where we wanted to end it, but we've all been playing together for a very long time. It still doesn't feel real. We've played together since we were little.”
Ralston Valley will graduate six seniors from this year's team, leaving rising senior Sabus as the most experienced player on the Mustangs' roster going into next year.
Highlands Ranch takes on Valor on March 18 at 6:00 P.M. with a spot in the state championship game on the line.
Other items that may interest you
We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.