LITTLETON — Dakota Ridge was able to close the deal on its home court Wednesday night in a big Class 5A/4A Jeffco League match-up against Golden.

The Demons — No. 1 in the CHSAA Selection & Seeding Index before Wednesday’s action and No. 3 in the opening Colorado Preps media and coaches rankings — suffered a 56-48 road loss to the defending 5A/4A Jeffco champions.

“It was another great opponent with a great coached team,” Dakota Ridge coach Sean Kovar said of his Eagles (7-4, 2-0 in league) defeating Golden (8-2, 0-1) in the Demons’ conference opener. “(Golden) is tough. They gave us everything we could handle. It was a fun Jeffco League battle.”

Dakota Ridge picked up its sixth victory in its last seven games, while handing Golden its first loss of the new year.

“We have had a lot of close games this year already,” Dakota Ridge junior Ethan Berninger said. “I felt like we were prepared to close this one out. We showed pretty good discipline at the end.”

Photo by Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Public Schools

The Demons hadn’t played since Dec. 18 due to their league opener scheduled for last Friday being postponed until Feb. 6.

“Coming into this game we talked about it being a game to gauge where we are,” said Golden coach Lou Vullo about facing the Eagles that were a 5A state quarterfinal team a year ago. “I thought our kids played really, really hard. We have to rebound better. We got out-rebounded tonight and that really hurt us.”

The Demons kept things close thanks to strong games by seniors Alex Erger (14 points), Nathan Rutar (8 points), Shad Garnett (7 points), along with junior Leif Hansen (8 points). Golden was shorthanded without guard Luc Chevalier in the line-up.

Berninger led the Eagles with a game-high 19 points, but he was hampered by foul trouble in the second half. He picked up his fourth foul with 5:44 left in the game, opening the door for the Demons to take advantage of one of the elite scorers in the state on the bench.

“It is always frustrating,” Berninger said of being in foul trouble and having to sit for a while in the fourth quarter. “But I have a great team around me. I wasn’t really worried at all. I knew they were able to do their thing.”

Juniors Nathan Esau and Alijah Sawyer both stepped up in the final quarter. The pair combined for 10 points to hold off the rally attempt by the Demons.

“Everybody we put on the court we trust. Everyone in our program we trust,” Kovar said of a handful of players stepping up late to seal the win. “Everyone in our program right now is playing with confidence.”

Dakota Ridge will go after a fourth straight victory Friday, Jan. 12, when it heads up the hills to Conifer High School to face the Lobos (3-7, 0-1). Golden is back in action when it hosts Littleton (4-6, 2-0) on Friday night.

“(Dakota Ridge) is a great basketball team. It was a great challenge for us. It is going to make us better down the road,” Vullo said as the Demons begin a string of 10 conference games over the next 30 days. “You never know what is going to happen in the Jeffco League. We’ll see what happens.”