DENVER - It was only fitting that as the clocked ticked down to zero Jefferson had their five starting seniors all finish the game on the floor together.
The No. 24 Saints were beat by No. 9 Sterling 44-28 in the first round of the 3A Colorado High School State Tournament Friday at Bruce Randolph High School.
But that loss certainly didn’t define their season. What defined Jefferson’s season was not only the fact that they had one of the best seasons in well over a decade, but that they did it together as a team.
“In the box score this will go down as a loss but what it won’t say is everything that these seniors accomplished over their careers at Jefferson,” Saints head coach Tony Sangaline said.
Four years ago Sangaline inherited five freshman who at the time were talented but raw.
-They were the perfect remedy for a program that was struggling for not only talent but for commitment.
Sangaline was forced to play his young players sooner than he would have liked, giving them big minutes as freshman, sophomores and juniors.
As you would expect his young players struggled. Two years ago Jefferson won just five games, and last season they won a total of just two games.
But Sangaline’s once young and inexperienced players slowly but surely turned into a mature battletested bunch that went on to win 15 games (15-9, 7-5), who finished with the second best overall record in a crowded Frontier League.
The Saints goal four years ago was to qualify for the state tournament which they did after two big wins at districts and even though they were beat by Sterling, they leave their basketball careers at Jefferson as winners.
“We started at the bottom and now we’re here at the top,” Sangaline said. “We have had steps throughout this process and one of our keys has always been to fight and fight for everything. Our guys have had to overcome a lot in their lives and this was just a part of that.”
And that is what they did Friday night. After Sterling ran off with a big first half lead Jefferson could have easily thrown in the towel.
Instead, despite being down nearly 30 points at one point in the contest the Saints played inspired basketball in the second half and literally fought until the last second. During the games final minutes and even though Jefferson’s rally fell short, Saints’ players continued to play aggressive defense, dive on the ground for loose balls and exude energy like they were the team that was up 20 points.
“That is who we are, that is Jefferson basketball,” Jefferson senior Alex Gallegos said. “We fight until the end no matter what, that is what our coach has taught us to do.”
Gallegos led Jefferson with nine points and senior Jamal Shah added five points in the loss.
But it is hard to actually call the game a loss considering all that Jefferson has accomplished this season.