It was a long and winding playoff road for the Lutheran boys. And although it didn't end at the desired destination — the Lions dropped their 2A state tournament opener before regrouping to capture the consolation championship — the journey was worthwhile.
“I'm very pleased with how the season finished,'' said Ryan Bredow, who took over as head coach this season after serving as head coach at Denver Lutheran for seven years (winning a state title in 2011 over Lutheran-Parker) and assisting John Adam in 2011-12 following the consolidation of the Parker and Denver schools. “There were a number of changes and I thought our players really responded well. We changed up quite a bit on both ends of the floor.''
The fifth-seeded Lions, who finished 20-6, struggled offensively in their quarterfinal game, bowing 45-37 to a Limon team that went on to the final, where it lost to defending champion Denver Christian. But they responded after a season-low in points by blowing out top-seeded Peyton 74-40 and Resurrection Christian 83-35 in the consolation bracket.
“We had a very tough draw in the first round,'' Bredow said. “Limon had been No. 1 most of the season and lost to Denver Christian in the district. I thought they were as good as anyone. They played really well and we didn't hit quite enough shots.''
Lutheran regained its offensive touch in the final two games, especially from long range. Eight players combined for 13 three-point baskets against Peyton and seven combined for 11 against Resurrection Christian.
Sophomore James Willis was the only Lion in double figures (10 points) against Limon. Willis, junior Josh Murphy and 6-4 sophomore Josh Clausen — all key hands on the football team as well — had 13, 12 and 11 against Peyton. Four Lions hit double figures against Resurrection Christian: Murphy (16), Willis (15), senior James Thomas (13) and junior Jake Kramer (12). Willis, Lutheran's leading scorer for the season at more than 14 points per game, had 38 points in the three games and Murphy was next with 36.
“We're a really young team,'' said Bredow, who started two sophomores and a junior and just two seniors among the top nine players. “We didn't have a lot of playoff experience and maybe that showed a little bit on (March 14). But once we got used to things, we exploded pretty quickly.
“I told the guys it really shows the high amount of character they have. In the second game we played with so much energy and our execution was great. They responded to an adverse situation really well.''
The loss to Limon was eased somewhat by the realization that Lutheran was fortunate just to make the Great Eight in Pueblo. After a district semifinal loss to Denver Christian, the Lions had to win in overtime against Byers to qualify for regionals, where they were sent to Durango. There, they beat Sargent but had to rally from 13 points down after three quarters to advance to state with a 52-46 victory over Ignacio.
Bredow hopes the state-tournament experience for a young team will pay greater dividends next year. The Lions return two of three of their top four scorers — Willis, Clausen and junior Reilly Carew — while replacing Thomas (second in scoring, first in rebounding) and Murphy (fifth in scoring).