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ThunderRidge beats Eaglecrest at buzzer in Class 6A Final Four to send Grizzlies to third title game in four years

For the second time in as many games, Tommy Wight put on his green cape and played hero.

The senior forward’s buzzer-beating put-back propelled ThunderRidge into the Class 6A championship, the Grizzlies’ third appearance in the title game in four years after capturing the Class 5A crowns in 2021 and ’22.

It was the difference in a dramatic 64-62 win over Eaglecrest and marked Wight’s second game-winner at the Denver Coliseum after his lay-up with five seconds left helped ThunderRidge beat rival Rock Canyon in last week’s Great 8.

“This is even a little bit better feeling (than the Great 8 game-winner),” said Wight, a Point Loma commit. “It was the same plan as against Rock Canyon. High ball screen, let Andrew (Crawford) do his thing. He’s the best in the state at getting downhill, and I was right there in the right moment.”

Wight’s score came off Crawford’s miss on a contested lay-up, and after Eaglecrest star junior point guard LaDavian King sank three free throws on the other end to tie the game with 9.9 seconds left.

King’s clutch free throws capped his 31-point night, but that wasn’t quite enough to topple ThunderRidge, which had four scorers in double figures. Crawford paced the Grizzlies with 22 points, while Wight had 14, senior guard Charlie Spann had 14 and senior guard Ryan Doyle chipped in 10.

The quartet helped ThunderRidge avenge last season’s first-round playoff loss at home to Eaglecrest, a 75-56 setback that remains the Grizzlies’ lone playoff defeat over the last four seasons. ThunderRidge won on Friday despite going down 11 points in the first quarter, which was punctuated by a 12-0 Eaglecrest run.

“Just like the Rock Canyon game, we have great resolve, and we know what it means to come back and fight,” said Crawford, the team’s senior leader at point guard and a CU commit. “We made the plays when it was most important.

“LaDavian had four threes in the first half, and the game plan at half was to step up on him. He’s most of their production, along with (junior center Garrett) Barger. They were offensive rebounding over us, so we had to rebound and get stops on LaDavian in the second half, and we did that just enough.”

Barger finished with a double-double, with 15 points and 12 rebounds, and had a handful of impressive put-backs in the fourth quarter to help the Raptors rally after ThunderRidge went on a third-quarter scoring spree to take command. That spree came after the Grizzlies decided in the locker room to stop running set plays.

“All those buckets we took the lead on, there was no sets,” ThunderRidge head coach Joe Ortiz said. “There was structure, but it was our guys just playing.”

The Grizzlies dominated in the paint to take control in the second half and ultimately finish, outscoring the Raptors there 44-18. ThunderRidge was up 12 points late in the third quarter, but King and Barger wouldn’t let Eaglecrest go quietly. King poured in seven 3s total while shooting way beyond the arc.

“We had a couple mishaps down the stretch — missed an easy shot we should’ve made, then we had a sloppy turnover on the sideline that really hurt us, and they made shots,” Ortiz said. “Garrett made some phenomenal put-backs, and then LD can hit from 25 (feet out). He’s just something special.”

For Eaglecrest, the heartbreaking loss comes with a silver lining, as the Raptors graduate just one senior and figure to be an immediate contender again next season. Their deep run in the state tournament was unexpected to many, even head coach Jarris Krapcha.

“There was a pretty big stretch in our year where I didn’t think there was any chance we’d be in this spot,” Krapcha said. “We had problems on and off the court, injuries, etc. We came together at the right time and we were in a position to win a Final Four game. I’m proud of them, because we’ve got a lot of guys back next year, and we can come back here (to the Coliseum).”

ThunderRidge’s composure in the game’s tensest moments shows this year’s Grizzlies’ DNA is like the title teams in ’21 and ’22, albeit with a different cast minus Crawford, who is set to play in his third title game.

“Two years ago in the state finals, we were down 12-0 to start the game,” Ortiz recalled. “Then we were down eight at half, and Fossil Ridge thought they had it, and we came out and scored 12 straight (to open the third). And we had 11 or 12 straight stops. So the resolve is phenomenal, and it’s similar this year to those title teams.”

Saturday will mark ThunderRidge’s ninth appearance in the title game under Ortiz, who is 4-4 in those bouts. With a win, the longtime Grizzlies’ boss — who earned his 500th career win earlier this season — can move into a tie with Greeley Central’s Jim Baggott for fifth all-time for the most championships at one school.

“It’s just about one,” Ortiz emphasized. “This one.”

ThunderRidge takes on Valor Christian at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Grizzlies beat the Eagles earlier in the season, 62-55 at Valor Christian on Dec. 9. It was one of two losses for the Eagles, who avenged the other defeat with a 67-56 win over Smoky Hill in Friday’s second Class 6A Final Four game.

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