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Mesa Ridge defeats Northfield to advance to second straight Class 5A boys basketball championship

Thursday night might be remembered for Bryce Riehl’s scoring outburst. But it was Mesa Ridge’s defense in the fourth quarter that saved the day against Northfield.

With 6:43 left in regulation, Riehl’s brother and senior guard, Tevin, stole the ball before racing down the floor for a layup. Moments later, forward Zander Iwanski recorded a steal before scoring at the other end.

No. 4 Mesa Ridge (25-2) recorded six steals in the fourth, serving as a difference maker in the Grizzlies’ 70-59 victory over No. 1 Northfield (24-3) in the Class 5A boys Final Four at the Denver Coliseum.

The Grizzlies finished the game with 11 steals and 17 points off turnovers.

“We’ve had some games where we ignored the transition opportunities off (turnovers),” head coach Joel Babbitt said. “We played aggressive defense and got a couple steals that were huge.”

Mesa Ridge will face No. 3 Windsor in the championship game on Saturday, hoping to capture its second straight 5A title. Windsor defeated Vista PEAK Prep, 35-32, in its semifinals matchup earlier in the day.

The Grizzlies have a chance to be the third team since 2015 to win back-to-back 5A championships, joining ThunderRidge (2021-2022) and Overland (2015-2016). Last year, the Grizzlies defeated Air Academy in the title game to finish the season with a 28-0 record.

Bryce Riehl finished with a game-high 25 points (17 in the first half), five rebounds and four steals. He was one of three players to record at least one steal.

“(Riehl) is a winner on both ends of the court,” Babbitt said. “When we had guys on the bench, he had to come through as a leader for us, and he sure did.”

The Grizzlies had four players to score in double figures. Tevin Riehl totaled 18 points despite spending the majority of the first half on the bench due to foul trouble. Guard Tanner Widic notched 11 points while Iwanski recorded 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

For Northfield, guard Justus Michael led the way with 21 points and five rebounds.

Bryce and his brother were hot early, combining to score nine of their team’s first 11 points in the opening minutes. With 5:18 to go in the first, Tevin passed the ball across the court to Bryce for a layup to take a six-point advantage.

Bryce continued to be a problem in transition when he drove to the rim for a layup, extending Mesa Ridge’s lead to 16-8 with 2:56 left in the first. With Tevin on the bench after picking up his second foul, Bryce nailed a 3-pointer as time expired to give Mesa Ridge a 21-14 lead to start the second.

When Northfield seemed to be gaining momentum in the second, Bryce took it away. He nailed a 3-pointer from the corner before converting a layup, as Mesa Ridge’s lead stretched to 10 points. Riehl went 10 for 20 from the floor.

“(Riehl) is incredible,” Babbitt said. “He was worried his shot not going in but I thought it looked pretty good today.”

Eventually, the Nighthawks found their spark. They scored eight unanswered to cut the deficit to 29-26 with three minutes left in the first half.

Northfield’s run continued. The Nighthawks scored 16 points in the final five minutes of the first half to cut the deficit to 34-33. Michael scored 10 of his 12 first-half points in the second quarter.

With four minutes left in the third, the intensity level went up another level. After Michael’s layup gave the Nighthawks a 43-40 lead, both teams traded 3-point baskets to tie the game at 46.

Mesa Ridge didn’t waste time to create the separation it needed to pull away. The Grizzlies scored six unanswered points at the start of the fourth to take a 56-48 lead. Michael’s jumper cut the deficit down to five points, but back-to-back layups from Bryce and Tevin gave the Grizzlies a 61-52 advantage with 3:07 left in regulation.

The Grizzlies outscored the Nighthawks 20-11 in the fourth.

“I was doing everything with confidence and just wanted to win,” Bryce said. “We are going back (to the championship) and hopefully we can win one more.”

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