DENVER – The first meeting of the year between two Colorado Springs rivals was one for the ages.

Four lead changes. Eight ties. Four of those just in the fourth quarter of the boys Class 5A championship game, after which No. 2 Mesa Ridge emerged 71-68 victors over top-seeded Air Academy to cap an undefeated season and secure the first basketball title in the school’s 25-year history.

“I don’t know how they did it,” Mesa Ridge coach Joel Babbitt said with a laugh. “This is their first experience with any of this. They’re just solid kids who worked hard and I’m glad they got a reward for it.”

After Mekhi Hubbard drained a layup with 40.3 seconds remaining to put the Grizzlies up by one over the Kadets, the game eventually landed on the shoulders of Tevin Riehl, who sauntered up to the free-throw line for a one-and-one with 11.5 seconds to go.

The junior knocked down both and Air Academy missed two potential game-tying shots, kicking off the celebrations for the Grizzlies.

“I’ve been practicing that forever,” Tevin Riehl said. “I’ve been wanting to do that since I was a little kid and I’m just glad I was put in that moment.”

Tevin Riehl led all scorers with 23 points, including the two most important of the game. But his impact was felt early on.

(Doug Ottewill/

Both teams pushed a breakneck pace in the first quarter, firing in transition and from beyond the arc. Bryce and Tevin Riehl combined on three of the No. 2 Grizzlies’ four 3-pointers in the early going, while Air Academy’s Corbin Garver carried over his momentum from Friday night with nine of the top-ranked Kadets’ 16 points in the opening frame.

The pace slowed in the second quarter only to shoot free throws, as Air Academy entered the bonus in the period’s opening minute and Mesa Ridge followed five minutes later.

Tied 27-27 midway through the second quarter, the Kadets posted a 7-2 run, but the Grizzlies surged back at the charity stripe to trail 38-36 at half.

Air Academy opened the third quarter on a 3-pointer from Max Howery, to which Tanner Widic responded in kind for Mesa Ridge. The Grizzlies tied it 41-41 on a bucket from Hubbard, then Widic cashed a layup and trey on consecutive possessions to build a fresh lead. By the end of the third, that advantage sat at 52-51.

A quick layup from Bryce Riehl and Trei Ginn’s and-one kicked off the fourth quarter for Mesa Ridge stretched the lead. After a 4-0 stretch in favor of Air Academy, which cut the Grizzlies’ lead to one with 2:27 to go, Bryce Riehl knocked down a transition 3-pointer to make the lead two possessions once again. Air Academy closed the gap at the stripe, then Luke Featherstone knocked down a 3 from the left wing to give the Kadets a one-point lead. Hubbard’s layup and Tevin Riehl’s free throws followed to end the game.

Babbitt, in his first year at Mesa Ridge but a longtime Colorado Springs-area coach, said he knew early on that his team was special.

“Day one, first 20 minutes, they had bought in,” the coach said. “I knew I had talent from the tapes I watched, but the fact that they bought in that quick and they were dying to learn — we talked them into loving defense. Now, every one of those kids is going to be a great defensive coach for the rest of their lives.”