DENVER – There are a few easy ways to describe Valor Christian’s championship-clinching fourth quarter against ThunderRidge on Saturday. Two points and 0-of-13 shooting from the field for the Grizzlies. A transcendent offensive effort from Cole Scherer and a suffocating defensive performance from Ryan Mandes.

It all coalesced into a 52-40 victory for the Eagles and their first state championship since 2017, when they won the Class 4A title.

There’s also the way Valor coach Jeff Platt would describe it: “warrior mentality.”

“We’ve wanted to develop a warrior mentality and play with that level of grit and toughness,” the coach said. “We’ve had to build that throughout the season. It wasn’t who we were day one, but we got tougher and stronger as the season went on and just continued to learn how to respond to each situation that we faced.”

Much like the semifinal win over Smoky Hill, the victory against ThunderRidge avenged a loss from earlier in the season, something Scherer said he was confident his team could do. Scherer finished with 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting, continuing a run of scoring at least 19 points in every playoff contest.

But while Scherer’s all-over-the-floor scoring kept the Eagles in the game, especially after an early deficit, he’s quick to point out how crucial the defensive stops were to securing the title.

“That’s our identity,” Scherer said. “We just home in on defense and when we get stops on defense it blows the game open for us. And that’s what happened in the fourth quarter.”

Charlie Spann led the Grizzlies with 18 points and shot 39% from the floor and while Andrew Crawford also finished in double figures with 10 points, it was on 3-of-13 shooting and six turnovers.

“That’s my boy Ryan Mandes,” Scherer said with a laugh. “He locked down Andrew Crawford and we were just getting stops out there.”

(Doug Ottewill/

Mandes, for his part, said he takes pride in his defensive intensity. Despite finishing with zero points and admitting that he “would’ve loved for some of (my) shots to fall,” it didn’t at all dampen the championship-caliber effort he put on the defensive end.

“It just tried to not let (Crawford) catch the ball,” Mandes said. “He’s an amazing player — best player I’ve guarded all year. I decided to put some pressure on him, make it a little physical.

“I got blown by a couple times, but I have Ryan Dixon on the other side blocking dudes. We did a great job rotating and just a great job all around.”

Prior to the defensive shutdown, some early success from Crawford was offset only by Scherer’s efforts.

In the first quarter, Crawford hit a pair of NBA-range 3-pointers as they stretched the lead to 14-5 before Scherer and Valor started heating up. The Eagles’ guard hit a mid-range jumper, and then a 3-pointer landed a major dent. By the second quarter, a deep make from Brady Wynja tied it 20-20 with 4:50 left in the half. Scherer followed with a step-back move that sent Crawford tumbling, then knocked down another 3-pointer.

Crawford responded with a heavily contested corner 3 late in the first half and Spann rattled in a floater at the buzzer to give the Grizzlies a 28-26 edge at the intermission.

In the third, the Eagles went on a run powered by eight points from Scherer and would’ve posted a double-digit lead had it not been for two late 3s from Spann. The Grizzlies scored just two points in the first six minutes of the third quarter — a preview of what would happen again in the fourth quarter.

ThunderRidge coach Joe Ortiz said his team “didn’t get to the right shots” and was suffering the cumulative effects of several physical playoff contests in a row.

“They were playing really physical on Drew,” Ortiz said. “The officials were letting the game be played physical, all our games, so that’s a factor, I think. Fatigue, I don’t know. (Valor) played well.”

Valor, meanwhile, celebrated completing the 6A sweep just a couple hours after the girls team lifted a trophy of its own. The Eagles return all but three seniors: Eli Kim, Ryan Dixon and Carter Hutchinson. Platt said all three seniors played vital roles in the victory.

With Scherer, Mandes and more players likely to return next year, there’s room to build on this victory. And for Scherer, his only offer is from Metro State, but that might change after winning the 6A tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award.

“Cole’s been incredible,” Platt said. “I think he’s had, by far, the greatest season in the state of Colorado.”

(Doug Ottewill/