DENVER – Home court can make all the difference in the world. When Eaglecrest jumped out to a first-half lead over Denver East in the Class 6A boys basketball Sweet 16, the Angels knew they needed to feed off the energy of the home crowd.

The Angels had done everything possible to stay in the game, even if they hadn’t led at any point in the first 16 minutes of regulation. By the time they grabbed the lead and ran the clock out, the energy of the Denver East gym held a level of energy that nothing will match next week.

The No. 4 Angels had to battle every step of the way, but walked off the floor with an 80-65 win over the No. 20 Raptors. Next stop: the Denver Coliseum.

“I’d rather be going to [Ball Arena] or somewhere like that,” East coach Rudy Carey said.

Forget about the venue for a minute, Coach. How does going to the Great 8 sound?

“That’s where we belong,” he said.

No one is going to argue that the Angels (23-2 overall) look the part of the one of the best eight teams in the state, at minimum. Their goals are probably a little better than that.

“We can win it all,” senior D’Aundre Samuals said. “They better watch out.”

He didn’t specifically single out who “they” were, but it’s safe to say he’s talking about the seven other teams heading to the Coliseum next Saturday. There is no doubt that Samuals belongs on a big stage in the high school basketball world. Especially after the way helped the Angels battle back from the deficit.

The Raptors (15-10) couldn’t miss from long range in the first half, knocking down six 3-pointers in the first two quarters.

“They were playing that zone and playing high,” Eaglecrest coach Jarris Krapcha said. “We got to the guy in the high-post and the 3’s were what was available.”

(Dan Mohrmann/

Samuals started the second half by attacking the basket and scoring six quick points to help East gain a 39-36 lead, forcing Krpacha to take a timeout and make some adjustments. The tweaks worked as the Raptors again found their rhythm from long range. Ladavian King connected on two big shots kept his squad up two points going into the fourth quarter. He led the Raptors with 28 points.

But that’s where Samuals knew he had to make his impact. He scored 13 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth.

“That’s Mr. Basketball, right there,” Carey said. “I need y’all to start spreading the word. That’s the best player in the state.”

What’s arguably more impressive than Samuals’ scoring output is that the Angels held Eaglecrest to one made 3-pointer in the final eight minutes.

“We had to take them off the 3-point line,” Samuals said. “They shot from the corner every single time so we had to stop the corner.”

The Angels are now just two wins away from playing for their first state championship since 2014. Two wins seems simple compared to the effort the team has given since Dec. 3. East started the season 0-2, but hasn’t lost since the second game of the year against Eaglecrest.

“These boys have won 23 games in a row,” Carey said. “That’s amazing.”

Three more games don’t seem like a tall task, but they’ll be against three of the top teams in the state. It doesn’t matter to Carey if the venue on the invite says Ball Arena, Denver Coliseum or Washington Park.

The important thing is that the Angels have earned their invite to a party reserved for the best eight basketball teams in the state.