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Wasson T-Birds move into 4A semifinals behind clutch possessions
Will face L-P on Friday in school's last year
DENVER – Wasson knew it would be faced with a game that would test its mental toughness and ability to hit huge free throws down the stretch.
When it happened, the Thunderbirds didn’t flinch, even with the pressure of a loser-go-home 4A boys' quarterfinal at the Denver Coliseum on Saturday.
DJ Hanes led all scorers with 27 points and hit four free throws in the last minute, and Richie Perea, his teammate since grade school, made four free throws to finish off the scoring, as No. 1 regional seed Wasson moved into the 4A semifinals with a 60-48 win over No. 2 Thomas Jefferson.
“Coach (Damion Copeland) always says that when it’s the fourth quarter, that’s when the real men step up,” said Perea, who finished the game with 13 points. “We knocked down our free throws and got the job done.”
Wasson (25-1), which extended its winning streak to 20 games, will meet Lewis-Palmer (66-49 winner over Cheyenne Mountain) on Friday at the CU Events Center in Boulder. That guarantees a Colorado Springs-area finalist. Sand Creek lost Saturday night on the other side of the bracket.
Larenz Stalcup added 13 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots for the Thunderbirds, who forced 22 turnovers. Wasson also connected on 18 of 20 free throws to thwart a rally by the Spartans (18-8), who had trimmed the deficit to 52-48 with 1:52 remaining.
“I was hoping to slow down our turnovers,” said Spartans senior guard Cameron Brown, who led three scorers in double figures with 11 points. “It was disrupting our game. We needed to have more consistency, and we made a lot of mistakes down the stretch. We just didn’t get it done.”
Wasson took control in the second quarter. Hanes hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions for a 26-19 Thunderbirds lead at the halfway mark. A Stalcup layup, plus two free throws apiece from Dominic Garcia and Markel Borges expanded the advantage to 32-21, with 1:03 left in the quarter.
“I’ve played with DJ a whole lot,” Perea said. “When he’s in, he’s in. It’s my job as a point guard to get him the ball when he’s in.”
Thomas Jefferson turned up the pressure in the second half, forcing 10 turnovers as the Spartans gradually drew closer. Aaron Hendricks’ 3-pointer from the left corner made it a 48-43 Wasson lead with 4:20 left in the game.
Wasson had an answer on back-to-back jumpers by Perea and Monico Morin that pushed the advantage back to nine.
A 3-pointer and two free throws by Brown cut the Thunderbirds’ lead to 52-48 with 1:52 left, the closest margin since early in the second quarter.
Again, Wasson had an answer and kept the Spartans from going on a run. Perea and Hanes led a late-game stall, Thomas Jefferson was forced to foul and the senior guards made them pay at the line.
“We got a little too tentative down the stretch, but when it came down to it, we kept our heads and stayed poised,” Copeland said. “That’s what I was hoping for. I put them in those situations in practice to see if they can come back.”
Wasson might be closing, but its Thunderbirds made it one step closer in their bid to go out on top.