LAKEWOOD — The top three boys basketball teams in the Class 5A/4A Jeffco League were at Green Mountain High School on Jan. 23.
Dakota Ridge — No. 5 in the CHSAANow.com 5A rankings — squared off against Green Mountain in a make-up game from a Snow Day from the pervious week. D’Evelyn’s boys basketball coach Will Gosch took his entire team on a field trip to watch the showdown from the stands behind the Rams’ bench.
The Eagles, Rams and Jaguars are in what appears to be a three-way race for the conference title this season. Dakota Ridge (14-2, 7-0 in league) took the first step forward getting some separation from Green Mountain with a hard-fought 71-62 victory.
“It’s a great win in helping secure the top spot in the conference,” Dakota Ridge senior Isaac Pullig said. “This was the best competition we’ve had in league so far.”
Dakota Ridge came into Monday’s game having margin of victory against its first four league opponents averaging nearly 56 points per game.
The win kept the Eagles undefeated in conference play tied with D’Evelyn (9-6, 5-0). The Jaguars have a little time before closing league play with back-to-back games against Dakota Ridge (Feb. 8) and Green Mountain (Feb. 10).
Green Mountain (11-6, 6-1) put on an impressive offensive display early in the upset bid. The Rams made their first five shots they took from the field, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range to take an early 12-6 lead 90 seconds into the game.
“We talked all week about confidence and throwing blows with the heavyweight champion,” Green Mountain coach Mike Puccio said of his Rams facing the No. 5-ranked Eagles. “I’m proud of these guys. That game could have went either way down the stretch.”
Senior Benson Wachter finished with 20 points including six 3-pointers for Green Mountain. Junior Blake Weslin had a game-high 24 points for the Rams.
“They are a great team and they have a bunch of great shooters,” Dakota Ridge coach Sean Kovar said. “Coach Puccio runs some awesome (schemes) for them. They got good looks.”
Dakota Ridge’s balanced offensive attack got going in the second quarter with seniors Pullig, Trevor Fuller, and Carson Evans all connecting from 3-point range to give the Eagles a 33-29 lead at halftime.
Kovar knew that his defense needed to play better to extending Dakota Ridge’s winning streak to nine games.
“I questioned our guys’ effort in the first half,” Kovar said. “We needed high hands and questioned if we wanted to play defense. I felt like they responded a little better in the second half.”
Dakota Ridge responded and seemed to have an answer every time Green Mountain made a run in the fourth quarter trying to regain the lead. Pullig and Fuller hit back-to-back 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter to give Dakota Ridge a 51-42 lead.
“They stress you when they have five to six guys who can go off for 20 points,” Puccio said of the Eagles’ balanced scoring attack. “They do a good job. They are well disciplined and well coached.”
Fuller (15 points), Pullig (13 points), Evans (12 points), along with sophomore Ethan Berninger (13 points) and senior Cole Holloway (12 points) all finished with double-digit points.
“We are well-rounded and we trust everyone on the court to make shots. They believe in each other,” Kovar said. “We knew it was going to be a tight game. We knew Green Mountain is really good and both teams would come ready to play. It was high-level basketball.”
Dakota Ridge got double-digit victories over Littleton and Wheat Ridge to close out the week and push its winning streak to 11 games.
“All we think about is one game at a time,” Kovar said. “We know we can lose to anybody on any given night. A team can get hot, but we continue to trust the process and prepare for our next opponent.”
Green Mountain bounced back with big wins over Pomona and Alameda to close out the week.
“We look forward to this league and it’s those rivalry games that are fun,” Puccio said of facing D’Evelyn in a conference finale on Feb. 10. “We are one game at a time.”
Dennis Pleuss is the sports information director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.