DENVER — Mesa Ridge is two wins away from successfully defending its Class 5A boys basketball state championship.

The No. 4-seeded Grizzlies strolled into next week’s Final 4 with a 68-44 victory over No. 12 Dakota Ridge on Friday night at the Denver Coliseum.

Mesa Ridge (24-2 record) will face top-seeded Northfield (24-2) in the semifinals on Thursday, March 7, next week back at the Coliseum.

“I just so excited to be moving on with these guys,” Mesa Ridge junior Zander Iwanski said. “I love this team.”

Iwanski was a big reason the Grizzlies are moving on. The junior poured in a team-high 21 points, including five 3-pointers. With much of Dakota Ridge’s defensive attention on the Grizzlies standout brothers — Tevin and Bryce Riehl — Iwanski had some early open looks that he knocked down.

“The Riehl brothers, there is nobody better in 5A,” Iwanski said. “I feel like I’m a dark horse because no one really looks out for me too much. I just took advance of it tonight.”

Mesa Ridge and Dakota Ridge actually met last season in the Great 8. The Grizzlies took a 65-55 victory led by an outstanding shooting performance from Bryce Riehl, who poured in a game-high 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting a year ago.

Mesa Ridge went on to win the school’s first boys basketball 5A state title defeating top-seeded Air Academy 71-68 in the championship game last season.

“He (Iwanski) was sitting on our bench last year. Getting a few minutes here and there. He just wanted that opportunity and he stepped up big time,” Mesa Ridge coach Joel Babbitt said. “He saw Bryce do it in this round last year. Tevin do it in the final. He was like, ‘It’s my turn.’ He has that kind of confidence.”

Bryce started out hot with a pair of early 3-pointers to help give the Grizzlies a 20-8 lead after the first quarter. The Grizzlies extended their lead to 20 points before halftime against the Eagles (18-8).

Dakota Ridge — back-to-back Class 5A/4A Jeffco League champions — did make a run in the third quarter. Junior Ethan Berninger got going with a dozen points in the third quarter as the Eagles nearly cut Mesa Ridge’s lead to single digits.

“He (Dakota Ridge coach Sean Kovar) does such a great job,” Babbitt said. “We were worried about this match-up.”

Berninger finished with a game-high 22 points, but Mesa Ridge went on a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter to put the game away. Iwanski buried his fifth 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to extend the Grizzlies’ lead to 61-37.

“I knew there would be nerves. I just tried to wipe them off as much as possible,” Iwanski said. “I came in confident shooting the ball. I hadn’t been shooting too well the last few games. Tonight was different.”

The 21 points was a season-high for the junior and the first time he had reached double-figures during the postseason.

“I just have guys who believe in each other and believe what we are doing,” Babbitt said. “We know if the ball isn’t going in we just play defense and we’ll be OK.”

Vista PEAK 57, Ponderosa 41

(Dan Mohrmann/

Vista PEAK Prep made history late Friday night advancing to the program’s first boys basketball Final 4.

“It feels so good. We’ve worked so hard for this,” Vista PEAK senior Alante Monroe-Elazier said. “We’ve worked and worked to get to this point.”

The No. 2-seeded Bison defeated No. 7 Ponderosa 57-41. It was the final game of the 5A Great 8 marathon Friday at the Denver Coliseum that featured four girls and four boys state quarterfinal games that started at 8:45 am and ended at 10:01 pm.

Ponderosa took a 14-9 lead with 7:23 left in the first quarter after a 3-pointer by senior Noah Wilhelm. However, it was be the lone points of the quarter for the Mustangs.

Vista PEAK (22-4 record) went on a 15-0 run to end the quarter, which also included Wilhelm — Ponderosa’s leading scorer this season — picking up his third foul amid the run by the Bison.

“We knew we could guard,” Vista PEAK coach Keenon Clement said of Ponderosa scoring a total of eight points in the second and third quarters. “There is a lot of teams that pride themselves on their defense. In the Final 4 there are some really good defensive teams there. We’ve got some aliens. Not a lot of teams have the pieces that I have.”

Monroe-Elazier had a monster second quarter with nine points as the Bison took a 24-14 lead into halftime. The key run finally ended when Ponderosa senior Dylan Karsteter had a layup with 6:17 left in the third quarter to end the Bison run at 19-0.

Ponderosa (17-9) had no answer for Vista PEAK’s Kyree Polk in the third quarter. The 6-foot-10 senior poured in nine points as the Bison outscored the Mustangs 18-5 in the quarter to take a 42-19 lead going into the fourth.

“All we had to do was defend,” Monroe-Elazier said. “I feel like we have the best defensive team in Colorado. When we lockdown we win games.”

Polk (17 points), Monroe-Elazier (12 points), along with fellow seniors Julian Carrizales (11 points) and James Brown III (10 points) led the way for the Bison.

“The game just went according to plan,” Clement said. “You get lucky sometimes.”

Wilhelm was the lone Mustang to score in double-digits with 13 points on the night.

Vista PEAK matches up against No. 3 Windsor in the Final 4 on Thursday, March 7, at the Coliseum. All of the top-4 seeds advanced to next week. The 5A state championship game will be played Saturday, March 9.

“We have build something that I’m really, really proud of,” Clement said.