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Pendergraft, Branting carry Eagles to big win over Warriors

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By Dan Johnson

CENTENNIAL — After picking up two early fouls, Dakota Ridge’s Jennelle Branting was relegated to the role of spectator as the rest of her Eagle teammates battled with Arapahoe last Wednesday.

Led by junior do-everything guard Amy Barczuk’s 14 points, the No. 7 Warriors entered halftime with a slim four-point advantage, 29-25.

When Branting returned to the floor in the second half, she more than made up for lost time.

The senior guard erupted for 14 points in the third quarter and finished the half with 18 points, as No. 3 Dakota Ridge outscored Arapahoe 39-25 over the final two quarters to pick up a crucial 64-54 Class 5A nonleague win at Sitting Eagle Gymnasium.

“It was very important,” Branting said of the win, which moved the Eagles to 10-2 on the season. “We had a lot of momentum going into the game. We had a slow start, but we pulled through.”

Coach Traci Nemechek was especially proud of how her team rebounded from a tough loss to top-ranked Regis four days prior.

“We got our butts whipped,” Nemechek said of the loss to top-ranked Regis. “We came out with right attitude (Wednesday) and did what we needed to do. We feel we’re a good team and we need to learn from every experience, whether it’s a win, loss or a close game.”

The Eagles opened the third quarter with a 13-1 run, spurred on by nine points from Branting, and turned the four-point halftime deficit into an eight-point lead. Arapahoe (7-4) drew back within two at 40-38 on a layup by Morgan Foss, but would get no closer as the Eagles closed the quarter on an 11-0 run and took a 51-40 lead into the fourth quarter.

“I had two fouls in the first quarter, so I had to sit the rest of the first half,” Branting said. “In the second half, I just wanted to come out and help the team.”

The Warriors never could draw within striking range in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to a superb effort on the offensive and defensive glass by the Eagles. Dakota Ridge out-rebounded Arapahoe 11-6 in the fourth quarter and 48-27 for the game.

“We practice that a lot,” Branting said of the team’s rebounding prowess. “We make sure we’ve got good position and box out. If we don’t rebound, that means we have to run at practice.”

Also vital to the Eagles’ success last Wednesday was the play of reserve, Tira Callaway. Callaway, who scored four points, did an admirable job guarding Barczuk, holding her to just four points in the second half. In addition to the defensive effort on Barczuk, Callaway dished out several nice assists, grabbed a handful of rebounds and even blocked a few shots.

“She’s just a great sparkplug coming in off the bench,” Nemechek said of Callaway. “She speeds up the game and gives us a different element to our game that everyone else on the team feeds off of.”

While she struggled in the second half, Barczuk’s play in the first half was stellar.

She had several drives to the basket that drew ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the crowd. When she wasn’t driving to the basket, Barczuk found the range from outside, knocking down a 3-pointer and two other mid-range jumpers.

Dakota Ridge withstood the run by Barczuk and the Warriors, thanks to senior Brooke Pendergraft, who scored 12 of her team-most 22 points in the half.

With Jefferson County League play beginning later this week; last Wednesday’s win over the Warriors gives the Eagles plenty of momentum.

Not that they need much, as they’ve won 40 straight league games.

“The win streak in league is always a goal of ours,” Branting said. “It’s important to us, but we’re looking for more than that.”

Dakota Ridge 13-12-26-13—64

Arapahoe 16-13-11-14—54

Dakota Ridge: Liz Malik 1 0-0 2, Elisa Schauer 1 0-0 2, Lindsi Holm 2 2-6 6, Brooke Pendergraft 11 0-0 22, Tira Callaway 1 2-3 4, Jennelle Branting 6 6-7 19, Jenna Santistevan 2 1-2 5, Janelle Baal 2 0-0 4. Totals: 26 11-18 64.

Arapahoe: Morgan Foss 1 0-2 2, Hanna Hoopingarner 1 1-2 4, Caitlin Durkin 2 5-5 9, Amy Barczuk 6 6-9 18, Alee Day 4 0-1 8, Diana Hentschel 3 0-0 8, Amanda Wojahn 0 2-2 2, Heather Saurber 1 0-0 3. Totals: 18 14-21 54.

3-pt. goals: Branting; Hentschel 2, Hoopingarner, Saurber.