DENVER — Tears have been a common for Lakewood’s girls basketball team down at the Denver Coliseum in recent years.
However, it was tears of joy rolling down the faces of the Tigers on March 3. No. 9-seeded Lakewood advanced to the program’s first state Final 4 in the program’s history with a 61-49 upset over top-ranked Highlands Ranch.
It was the fourth straight Great 8 appearance for the Tigers (21-5 record), but their first victory at the Denver Coliseum.
“I wasn’t ready to be crying afterwards. I mean I cried anyways, but it was happy crying. It’s a better feeling for sure,” Lakewood junior Camilla Emsbo said after her 21 points and 14 rebounds performance in the state quarterfinal game. “It means the world to our program. We have been working so hard for this.”
It has been an emotional season for Lakewood. The program had to deal with the death of four-year star player Mackenzie Forrest after a tragic car accident last March and the sudden passing of Joe Poisson, assistant coach and father of Lakewood head coach Chris Poisson.
“It means everything, my Dad and Little Mac,” Chris Poisson said through tears Friday night at the Denver Coliseum. “It’s pretty cool and for our school. We’ve been to this game (Great 8) enough. It’s about time we get to the Final 4.”
Forrest was on the mind of Emsbo as she led the Tigers to the biggest victory in the program’s history.
“The entire game I was thinking that this is all what Mac would want,” Emsbo said as she hugged the 5A Final 4 plaque. “She is looking down on us right now and she is like, ‘If you don’t win this game I’m going to be so mad.’ I know that is exactly what she would be thinking. We all wanted to do it for her.”
While Emsbo had a monster game, the Tigers got contributions from their entire line-up. Seniors Celeste Barron-Nicolette, Gabby Hayden, junior Jessica Woodhead and freshman Nadia Trevizo all sank a 3-pointer in the victory.
Junior Hannah Renstrom went 8-for-11 from the free-throw line, including 5-for-7 in the fourth quarter to help seal the victory. Kira Emsbo, Camilla’s twin sister, finished with eight points and junior Sassy Coleman had 10 points.
Renstrom, Kira Emsbo and Coleman all missed games this year due to injuries that forced Camilla Emsbo to carry the team at points this season.
“I don’t think I’m carrying the team any more,” Camilla said. “I think our team all around is fantastic. Everyone is playing their role and playing the best they possibly could.”
Lakewood went on a key 9-0 run to close the first half against Highlands Ranch (23-3) to give the Tigers a 28-21 lead at halftime. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Falcons’ Tori Beck and Tommi Olson trimmed the Tigers’ lead to 28-27 early in the third quarter, but that was as close Highlands Ranch would get.
Camilla and Coleman combined for 14 points in the third quarter to push Lakewood’s lead near double-digits. The Tigers’ closed the game on a 9-0 run to pull off the biggest upset of the tournament.
“We love Lakewood,” Coleman said. “It was good to give them this win right now to get to the Final 4.”
It was actually the second meeting of the season between Lakewood and Highlands Ranch. The two met in a tournament in California on Dec. 3. The Falcons edged the Tigers 35-31.
“We got the feel of them and what we could do better,” Camilla said of the first meeting. “We knew it was possible and we could do it. That was a really big factor coming into tonight.”
Next up for Lakewood is No. 12 Cherry Creek. The Bruins defeated 5A Jeffco League champion Ralston Valley 56-39 a few hours at the Coliseum before Lakewood’s stunning victory.
“Tonight we were terrific,” Poisson said.
The Tigers and Bruins will play the last of the four 5A and 4A girls basketball semifinal games Thursday, March 9, at the Coliseum. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.