Don’t count Regis Jesuit out of the Continental League boys basketball championship chase yet.
The third-ranked Raiders beat No. 6 ThunderRidge 61-49 Friday night in a battle of second-place teams whose only league setback came at the hands of the second-ranked Golden Eagles.
But with Mountain Vista suffering its first league loss to Chaparral on Friday and still having to face fourth-place Legend, a team just outside Class 5A’s top 10, and fifth-place Highlands Ranch, a Continental title remains within Regis’ grasp. The Raiders (17-4 overall, 8-1 league) have won five straight and since a 77-73 loss to the Golden Eagles and 13 of their last 14 games, and close the regular season next week against Douglas County and Ponderosa.
“Every game has high importance to us,’’ said Raiders star Josh Perkins. “We’re trying to get as many wins as we can and hopefully get a high seed.’’
Second place wasn’t the primary focus for Regis coach Ken Shaw heading into Friday night’s road game against ThunderRidge (15-6, 7-2).
“It’s important to finish the best that we can,’’ Shaw said. “We didn’t even talk about (second place) with our kids, because it’s about finishing strong and just playing our best basketball.’’
Friday wasn’t Perkins’ best game. The 6-2 junior guard scored 20 points – 6.2 below his average -- but was 6-of-19 shooting, had just one field goal in the second half, played much of the game in foul trouble and rolled an ankle after a missed layup early in the third quarter.
But Perkins’ teammates and Regis’ defense came provided a big lift as the Raiders outscored ThunderRidge 35-20 in the second half, though the lead was just one point with 3:34 left.
Sophomore Bryan Staerkel scored 13 of his 16 points – one shy of a season high – in the second half and also helped hold Zach Rusk, the Grizzlies’ top scorer, to 12 points, five below his season average. Eric Stemper, one of two seniors on the roster, had a hand in limiting Joe Marucci to 10 points, 4.6 below his average.
“Some of our guys are a little bit forgotten because of Josh,’’ Shaw said. “But I think Josh brings out the best in them and I think they’re there to pick up the slack.’’
“I’ve got to credit my teammates. I have incredible confidence in them,’’ said Perkins, who has topped 20 points in 11 straight games. “ThunderRidge is a great team and they did the best they could to get me out of the game. But my teammates came through.’’
The Grizzlies made it close despite shooting just under 30 percent from the field and going without a basket for the final six minutes (0-of-10 shooting and four turnovers).
“I’d say that was our worst shooting performance of the year,’’ said ThunderRidge coach Joe Ortiz. “We missed a lot of shots we should’ve made: layups, 3’s, short shots. Shots that we normally make, we didn’t make ‘em. Shots that you’ve got to make to win.’’
Still, ThunderRidge trailed by just four points, 53-49, after a pair of free throws by Hunter O’Neill with 2:09 left. But Regis scored the final eight points, including 6-of-6 free throws (four by Perkins), to cap a 12-14 quarter at the line.
The Grizzlies have dropped two of their last three, including a Feb. 8 overtime loss to Mountain Vista, and close out the regular season against Castle View and Rock Canyon. They had won seven straight following a loss to No. 1 Denver East.
Ortiz said a second-place finish in the Continental League “absolutely’’ is a big deal. But he’s more concerned about how the recent defeats might affect the Grizzlies’ seeding for the 5A tournament.
“If we’re a 2 seed, then it’s a wash,’’ he said. “If we’re a 3 seed, then you play that second game on the road if you win your first game.’’
Ortiz hopes the Grizzlies can avoid what happened to East last year when the Angels won the Denver Prep League but only got a No. 3 seed – and lost at ThunderRidge in the second round.