MANITOU SPRINGS – “Life lessons,” Coal Ridge boys basketball coach Paul Harvey observed, watching his red-eyed players being consoled by parents and friends after falling one game short of reaching the Great Eight in the 3A state playoffs, with a 57-46 loss to host Manitou Springs.

“Thirty-one teams (in the state tournament) end up the same way, but they played their hearts out,” Harvey said of the Titans, who came from 14 points down after one quarter to grab the lead twice in the third. Then with 6:15 left in the game, first Hunter Gerber, then Brandon Herrera took rebounds coast-to-coast for a 44-42 Coal Ridge lead.

But defensive rebounds were a fickle friend to the Titans in this game, and on back-to-back possessions the Mustangs’ Steven Jensen muscled up a pair of follow shots, the first to tie, and the second to take the lead for good with 5 minutes to play.
The latter was particularly devastating as Greyson Keener blocked Jensen’s first put-back attempt only to see the ball go right back in the 6-2 senior’s hands for the lay-in that put Manitou up 46-44.

“That was the whole game in a nut-shell,” Gerber’s father Jeff, one of Harvey’s assistants, remarked afterwards. Indeed, the Mustangs pounded Coal Ridge on the boards throughout, pulling down 43 caroms to 24 for the Titans, 22 off the offensive glass.

Jensen had 10 of those second-chance rebounds and scored on five of them, but it was Manitou’s long-range shooting that put the Titans at an early disadvantage and then finally buried them. Davyn Adamscheck hit three 3-pointers to key a 9-0 run in a 22-8 first quarter where the Mustangs made 4-of-6 beyond the arc. But Herrera began the Titan comeback with two triples to start the second quarter. Manitou made only one-of-nine 3-point attempts in the period as Coal Ridge crept within 29-23 at intermission.

“We told them after that first quarter, ‘They hit a bunch of shots, and we didn’t hit any,’” Harvey said. “We try to stay close and turn every negative into a positive.”

Herrera, a 5-8 sophomore, perfectly demonstrated that principle after halftime, scoring 12 points as Coal Ridge crept closer, 16-13. With Manitou continuing to put up and miss three-pointers, Herrera scored the Titans’ first 10 points of the quarter, his 3-pointer tying the score for the first time, then a steal and layup giving Coal Ridge its first lead, 33-31 with 4:18 to go in the third.

“They were D’ing up Hunter,” Harvey said of the Mustang defense against the Titans’ leading scorer, held to two second-quarter baskets and one in the third. “Brandon carried us. When he’s shooting and creating like that, it’s fun to watch.”

After eight straight missed treys, extending back to the first half, Toby White came off the Mustang bench to drop one in following yet another Jensen put back and Manitou led 42-39 at quarter’s end.

The Mustangs opened the fourth quarter missing their first six 3-bombs and Gerber and Herrera took advantage of the long caroms for breakaways and the final Titan lead before Jensen’s put-backs regained the lead for good. “We tried to address that (defensive rebounding) at halftime,” Harvey said, “but it came back to bite us.”

And then the Manitou long-distance drought, which reached 2-for-20 after the initial hot streak, ended with back-to-back 3-pointers by Cole Sienknecht, as did the Titan dreams of going to the Denver Coliseum next weekend. Those treys capped a 10-0 run and gave Manitou a 52-44 lead with 3 minutes left, while Coal Ridge missed all six of its long shots in the final quarter.

“They gave it all they had,” Harvey said afterwards of his team not only battling back from the early deficit but facing a raucus home town crowd roaring throughout much of the contest. The third-seeded Mustangs (22-2) will face number eleven Colorado Springs Christian (19-5) in the Great Eight.

Jensen and Lucas Rodholm each scored 13 to lead four double-digit scorers for Manitou. Herrera’s season-high 22 points, including 4-of-9 beyond the arc, led the fourteenth-seed Titans with Gerber and Keener both scoring ten.

Seniors Sawyer Snode, Jake Solinger, Dan Schouten, and Keener wrapped up their Titan careers with the Sweet Sixteen appearance, going 16-8 for the season, but Harvey again found something positive with Gerber, a junior, and Herrera leading a strong group of returning players, and “We played three freshmen (Kevin DiMarco, Aaron Arreola, and Jan Hernandez), our jayvees went 17-2, and (pointing to the court after the game), look at those eighth graders out there shooting.”