The ingredients were there for Valor Christian.
The Eagles had a recipe. Coach Troy Pachner was in his second season heading the Eagles. They dressed nine seniors. They’ve played together for multiple seasons. And they were coming off a runner-up showing.
Mix them all together and Valor became one of the few schools in any classification to follow a football championship with one in boys basketball.
On Saturday at the Denver Coliseum, the Eagles, who have won the past two Class 5A football titles, ultimately ran away from Lewis-Palmer to win 68-55 and capture their first 4A boys basketball championship. They ended 24-4 and were 49-7 over two seasons.
Pachner, who had terrific teams at D’Evelyn before coming over to the Eagles, nabbed his second title. He and the Jaguars won the 3A gold ball in 2004.
“It has been a little time now, but this feels great for a second one,” he said afterward. “We were in this game last year and it gave us some experience. This was just kind of Mission I all year long.”
Consider it mission accomplished. Valor, which began the season by losing to 5A Doherty by 24 points, also stood 3-2 in December. The Eagles would go on to split two games with two out-of-state foes that won their state title and finished second, won their final 16 games and were 13-1 in the Jefferson County League. Their only slip-up in that span was, by the way, to D’Evelyn.
And on Saturday, they grabbed the lead and held it against the Monument Rangers (25-3), methodically repelling each move. Never mind only four Eagles scored. Behind Kayle Knuckles (32 points) and Jalen Sanders (18), who did most of the heavy lifting in the final and as they had done all season, Valor kept at it while the Rangers missed a bunch of opportunities down low.
Valor grabbed a 15-8 first-quarter lead and gained its first significant separation early in the third quarter, going on an 8-0 run. The Eagles enjoyed a mix of beating the Rangers down the floor and even though they finished with a 33-31 rebounding edge, their superior play inside was a much bigger difference.
Knuckles, who added 12 rebounds, said “I never thought I’d have (32 points), but it was so much fun, playing together for four years with all of my best friends. And it’s hard to win it all.”
The 6-foot-5 Knuckles, also representative of the height advantage enjoyed by the Eagles, made his team’s only 3-pointers, going 2-of-3 – the Eagles attempted just two others – as they shot 26-of-49 (53 percent). Meanwhile, the Rangers struggled, canning only 20-of-55 shots (36 percent) and attempting only 10 free throws.
Keisan Crosby added 12 points, six rebounds and six assists for Valor in another all-around effort. Dylan McCaffrey, the Michigan quarterback signee, was the only other Eagle to score (six points) and he added four rebounds. He also played with the look of a boxer – an errant elbow in a practice gave him six stitches and three butterflies above his left eye.
For Lewis-Palmer, very promising sophomore Joel Scott (15 points), Drew Blomberg (13) and Angelo Battistelli (12) were tops. Battistelli added eight rebounds before fouling out. Challengers year in, year out, the Rangers had entered on a 19-game winning streak after beginning the season 4-4.
And losing only six seniors, they’ll be back again. And soon.
But it was a Valor kind of season. The Eagles played well together, refused to care about who received the credit and were serious defenders, an under-rated trait of their game.
“The core was there,” Pachner said. “These kids were ready to go.”
Lewis-Palmer 8 13 13 21 – 55
Valor Christian 15 12 17 24 – 68
Lewis-Palmer – Scott 5 4-4 15, Nehme 0 0-0 0, Burkett 3 0-0 8, Carter 0 0-0 0, Baca 0 0-0 0, Choban 0 0-0 0, Corkill 1 0-0 2, Battistelli 5 2-2 12, Blomberg 4 2-2 13, Cook 2 1-2 5. Totals 20 9-10 55.
Valor Christian – L. McCaffrey 0 0-0 0, Randle 0 0-0 0, Michael 0 0-0 0, Foley 0 0-0 0, Knuckles 13 4-6 32, Crosby 3 6-8 12, D. McCaffrey 2 2-4 6, Remus 0 0-0 0, Shane 0 0-0 0, Michael 0 0-0 0, Wilson 0 0-0 0, Sanders 8 2-2 18. Totals 26 14-21 68.
3-pt. goals – Blomberg 3, Bukett 2, Scott; Knuckles 2. Fouled put-- Blomberg. Technicals – None.