One more: Holy Family a win away from repeating in girls' hoops

Mar. 8—DENVER — In Friday's semifinals win, Holy Family's Julia Hodell hit timely shots and, as per usual, asserted her defensive will.

The senior's fingerprints were all over the Class 4A No. 1 Tigers' 48-42 victory over No. 4 Resurrection Christian at the Denver Coliseum. She knows they'll have to be again if the defending champs hope to get past Riverdale Ridge and superstar Brihanna Crittendon in Saturday's finals.

"I'm really excited to play her," Hodell said moments after the win. The Tigers are back at the Coliseum as they face the third-ranked Ravens at 5:45 p.m.

Against the Cougars, Hodell hit 5 of her 6 shots and scored 13 points in a place known to frustrate even the best high school shooters. An adjustment isn't always this easy in the wide-openness of the Coliseum.

Defensively, Hodell — the best Holy Family coach Ron Rossi said he has ever had on that side of the ball — helped give Rez fits, holding it without a field goal for the first 11 minutes of the game.

After the halftime break, Hodell and the Tigers found their offense, too.

Up just 23-22 in the third quarter, Hodell scored five points as part of a quick 7-0 spurt, and the Tigers finished the frame on a 15-3 run to push the lead to 38-25. In the fourth, the senior scored her team's first four points, including a steal that turned into a breakaway layup, before Rez made one final push.

The lead down to four with 1:37 remaining, Sawyer Dana answered with a 3-pointer. The team's leading scorer, Essynce Contreraz, then sealed things from the free throw line, finishing with a team-high 16 points.

"Defense wins championships," Hodell said, surrounded by a camera and reporters after the win.

The Tigers' offense just needs to do enough.

"Our attitude is we're going to get a run," the coach, nicknamed Rocket Ron, said. "We don't know when it's coming, and that's me, believing sooner or later a run is going to happen. And it did today."

The Tigers can win their eighth state title in program history Saturday, moving them within one of Eads — the small Eastern Plains high school with the state's biggest collection of girls hoops championships.

Holy Family has never lost in the finals, winning all seven appearances since 2008. That doesn't include 2020 when the Tigers were set to play in the finals before the COVID pandemic shut things down.

In none of them did they face a superstar quite like the Ravens' Crittendon. The consensus five-star prospect is a 6-foot-3 sophomore with a reputation and propensity for taking over a game.

"She's going to score. She's a five-star for a reason," Contreraz said. "For us to stop her completely, I mean, what are the chances? No one has been able to do it all season. Her scoring, we have to minimize that. It's going to be a good game. A dogfight. I think at the end of the day, it will be who can play better defense."

Many believed Crittendon was one of the best freshmen the state has ever seen last winter, when she turned a nine-win team from 2022 into a 22-win 4A quarterfinalist.

This season, she was even better. Averaging around 30 points and 11 boards per game, Crittendon had 32 points earlier on Friday as the Ravens beat No. 2 D'Evelyn, 56-34, in their semifinal.

Rossi said he has a plan for what to do against her Saturday. And to no one's surprise, it will be led by Hodell.

In the quarterfinals, the Tigers faced another touted prospect in Peak to Peak's Alexandra Eschmeyer, sending Hodell, Dana and different looks at the 6-foot-5 Stanford commit. Eschmeyer wasn't stopped, but her 14 points and 13 boards were below her season averages (23.5 ppg, 13.1 rpg).

Seniors Hodell and Contreraz, stars from last year's title run, are ready for one more big challenge. And hopefully, one more perfect finish.

"I think last year I was really nervous in the championship, and I'm sure those nerves will be there," Hodell said. "But I've played on this floor many times before now. It's a matter of being calm coming into the game, coming out hard. And as long as I know I have my teammates, it'll all be good."