DENVER -- Luke Justice had a cold and a sprained ankle, which forced him to miss three days of practice.
It seemed like most of his teammates were in foul trouble. A half-dozen or so had three fouls by the middle of the third quarter.
Yet Frederick’s Golden Eagles never let Mead High School climb into their elite 8 round match-up March 2 at the Denver Coliseum. FHS won the game 76-61 to earn its second straight slot in the state semifinals. This year’s opponent will be Air Academy High School. Tip time is 5:45 p.m. Friday, March 10, at the Coliseum.
“We’ve had a lot of doubt. We were trying to show them that we can do this,” said senior Matias Aldana, who finished with a team-high 21 points. “Our defense worked tonight. We decided to lock up. We held their best player to nine points. We’ve been working hard.”
Justice and Jacob Lovins pitched in with 17 points. Jj Strojnic and Harry Singh tossed in 10. Mead’s top scorer was Dominic Maclawrence, who scored 14 points. Matthew Angelo added 13.
Defense had been an issue for FHS earlier in the year, but not in the rematch against Mead. The Mavericks made just two baskets from beyond the 3-point line in the second half.
“We did what we wanted to,” Lovins said. “We played defense a lot better than we did the first time we played them. The result was a win. We’ve come a long way on defense.”
“We definitely worked our tails off,” Justice said. “It was a great team effort on defense. We knew that stop after stop after stop was going to lead to a win. We knew we had to get off to an early lead. We kept pushing and pushing and pushing.”
When the foul trouble began, FHS changed up the scheme to a degree.
“We tried to wall up more,” Lovins said. “We tried to keep everybody out of the way. We pushed it up a little bit tonight. We played a little bit looser than we wanted to. But it worked in the end.”
"Coach (Coach Jeff Conway) told us to stay calm and wait until the second half to be more aggressive," Singh said. "But we have to do a better job of not fouling so much."
FHS’ biggest lead in the first half was 13 points, which happened to be the lead at the end of the first half. The Mavericks pulled to within 10 points late in the third quarter, But Justice’s 3-pointer gave the Golden Eagles some breathing room entering the fourth period.
“We felt disrespected,” Justice said. “We obviously shouldn’t have lost to Riverdale (the only loss on the Golden Eagles’ season in 26 games. But having Mead in front of us, we made sure the guys knew we were an underdog, and we took it to them.”
Coach Jeff Conway said his squad has had a chip on its collective shoulder this season.
“No one has believed in us all year,” he said. “That’s our motto. Make them believe. It’s going to be tough. Air Academy is really good. We were calm and collected. It’s nice we were able to play a game down here. We didn’t shoot it too bad down here. We’re going to have to shoot it well again.”
"How can you beat a team and then be ranked below them?" Singh wondered. "Some guy made a prediction about our game with Air Academy. It's just one more thing where we have to prove them wrong."