LONGMONT — If you would have told Holy Family coach Pete Villecco two months ago that his team would make a run to the Sweet 16 of the Class 4A state tournament, he probably would have taken it.
Because even after a tough start, he and his staff knew the kind of character and grit they had in their own room and that it would be just a matter of time before the Tigers turned it around.
And boy did they ever, including and 11 day stretch in February that saw them win record wins against three Top 10 teams in Longmont, Mead and Erie in addition to going toe-to-toe with eventual top-seed Windsor.
That is certainly how this season will be remembered.
On Thursday night, the Tigers season came to end — ironically enough — at Mead. The Mavericks, led by junior guard Elijah Knudsen’s career high 45 points that included 10 three-pointers, was just too much for the Tigers. Mead (12-3) moved into the Great 8 with a 71-45 over Holy Family.
“(Knudsen) was special player tonight and he’s got great demeanor and he invests a lot of time on his game,” Villecco said. “He played really well and so did the rest of the team.”
Even assistant coach Keith Grable said he hadn’t seen a performance like that since he and his twin brother Dean faced off against Chauncey Billups in the state title game in 1994 and the future first round draft pick went off for 31 in the 6A title game.
Holy Family, which led by as much as 20 in its 67-58 win two weeks ago, kept things close after one quarter despite trouble scoring in the paint against 7-foot center JP Shiers. The lanky junior had five blocks in the opening eight minutes, but the Tigers only trailed 13-10.
In the second is when Knudsen started to fins his range. The Tigers threw their best defenders at him, but it didn’t seem to matter. He scored 23 points in the quarter, including five 3’s, and seemingly had the green light to fire from any spot he wanted.
“You just try to compete and challenge shots and he still made them,” said Villecco, whose twelfth-seeded Tigers finished the regular season 10-6. “You just shake his hand, like I did, and say he was really good tonight.”
That three point first quarter lead grew to 43-28 at the break and the Tigers were never able to inch any closer in the second half. The shots that dropped in the first meeting were off on Thursday night. The Tigers hit just five three pointers all night.
“We have no reason to hang our head. It doesn’t feel good right now, but when we look back at the last two months, we have a lot to be proud of,” said Villecco, whose team was paced by Jackson Ward’s 10 points. “Our team grew game by game and to get to the Sweet 16 and play a really good team on the road, especially for our young guys, is a valuable experience.”
It was a tough end to the season for the six Holy Family seniors — Blake Hammond, Connor Cooney, Esrom Abraha, Brandon Pierret, Quinn Sousa and Sam Cullison — but for the underclassmen, the future is bright. The Tigers return six varsity contributors and will be able to pluck from a junior varsity quad that didn’t lose much at all this season.
“We are in great shape. We’ve got good kids, we are losing six quality seniors, but we feel good about our young guys,” Villecco said. We like our nucleus coming back and they saw a really high level tonight and they know we have work to do.”
(5) MEAD 71, (12) HOLY FAMILY 45
Holy Family (10-6) 10 18 10 7 — 45
Mead (12-3) 13 30 20 8 — 71
Holy Family — Quintana 2 0-0 6, Hammond 3 0-3 6, Cooney 3 2-4 8, Ward 3 4-4 10, Abraha 1 0-0 2, Tafoya 2 0-0 5, Fritchen 1 0-0 3, Bridges 1 0-0 3, Pierret 1 0-0 2, Sousa 0 0-0 0, Harkness 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 6-11 45.
Mead — Basson 0 1-2 1, Knudsen 15 5-8 45, Santiago 2 0-0 5, Shiers 5 2-3 12, Tenore 2 0-0 4, Tecu 0 0-0 0, Pelzel 2 0-0 4, McLawrence 0 0-0 0, Herrera 0 0-0 0, Hoffman 0 0-0 0, Murphy 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 8-13 71.
3-pt. goals — Holy Family (5): Quintana 2, Tafoya, Fritchen, Bridges; Mead (11): Knudsen 10, Santiago. Fouls — Holy Family 13, Mead 10. Fouled out — Cooney.