As the lone returning starter, Janelle Baal knew she’d be looked upon to provide more scoring for the Dakota Ridge girls basketball team.
The senior point guard saw the challenge as an opportunity to broaden her game. She diligently worked on her 3-point shot, and as the season progressed, Baal developed into a dangerous threat from behind the arc.
With a share of the Class 5A Jefferson County League title hanging in the balance, Baal’s long-range skills were put on display Feb. 21 on Senior Night against rival Columbine.
Baal hit six 3-pointers on the night, including three straight down the stretch, and led all scorers with 25 points as the Eagles rallied from a nine-point fourth quarter deficit to claim a dramatic 49-46 victory on Senior Night.
The win earned the Eagles (10-3 Jeffco, 13-10 overall) a share of the Jeffco League title with Ralston Valley. The Mustangs, by virtue of its head-to-head victory over the Eagles, earned the top seed out of Jeffco in the 5A state tournament, which begins play Feb. 25. The Eagles wound up with the No. 5 seed in the Alice Barron Region and host No. 12 Mountain Range at 7 p.m. in the opening round.
“I knew I wanted to shoot because the shots were falling for me,” Baal said. “My teammates did a good job of getting me open looks and the shots were just falling for me. This league title is the most special to me because I feel like I played a big role in helping our team win (Feb. 21).”
Dakota Ridge needed every one of Baal’s threes as things were looking bleak in the fourth quarter. When Columbine’s Olivia Leyshock got open underneath for a layup early in the fourth quarter, it put the Rebels (9-4, 17-6) up 43-34.
Baal took over the game from there.
She scored on a driving layup to cut the margin to seven. Down six, the barrage of 3-pointers began. The first cut the deficit in half and the second, with 2 minutes, 22 seconds to play, tied the game. Her final 3-pointer with 1:34 to play gave the Eagles a 46-43 lead.
Columbine closed to within a point at 47-46 with 36 seconds to play following a 3-pointer by Alyssa Maccan, but would get no closer as Dakota Ridge’s Elisa Schauer came down with a pair of key rebounds and sank a free throw in the closing seconds.
“We went into the fourth quarter with the lead, and I think we just tried to hold the lead instead of trying to keep scoring and keep the momentum going,” Maccan said.
Guided by point guard Demitra Apergis, who dominated the first three quarters and finished with 21 points, Columbine led by three points at halftime and surged ahead, 38-30, entering the fourth quarter. Things were looking good early in the fourth when Heather Van Halen banked in a three and Leyshock’s layup built the lead up to nine. The Rebels, though, would score just three more points (all on Maccan’s 3-pointer) down the stretch.
“We knew we were going to have to fight for (the title),” said Dakota Ridge coach Traci Nemechek, whose teams have now won or shared the Jeffco League title six straight seasons. “We knew no one was going to give us anything and it wasn’t going to be easy. The thing about this team is, they’ve never come into the gym and felt sorry for themselves. They’ve never had one day where they didn’t want to come in and work to get better or leave their legacy.
“That’s really a testament to them. It’s the one thing that separates them from the other (championship) teams I’ve coached.”
Columbine is the No. 6 seed in the Carol Callan Region and hosts No. 11 Grand Junction (8-15) in the first round.
Dakota Ridge 12-10-8-19—49
Columbine: Demitra Apergis 9 1-3 21, Heather Van Halen 1 2-2 5, Alyssa Maccan 1 0-2 3, Aimee Thomas 1 1-2 3, Randee Hayes 1 2-2 4, Noelle Hoelsken 2 0-0 4, Olivia Leyshock 3 0-0 6. Totals 17 6-11 46.
Dakota Ridge: Janelle Baal 8 3-4 25, Jaime Brandhorst 1 2-3 4, Elisa Schauer 0 4-6 4, Sarah Fine 1 0-0 2, Liz Malik 4 0-0 8, Brooke Orcutt 1 0-0 2, Lexi Chavez 2 0-0 4, Skippy Tripp 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 9-14 49.
3-pt. goals: Apergis 2, Maccan; Baal 6.