Highlands Ranch reaping benefits of early tests

CHANDLER, Ariz. --Two weeks ago, Highlands Ranch paid a visit to Beaverton, Ore., where the Falcons played three tough teams in the Nike Northwest Invitational.

After going 2-1 in the tournament, the Falcons returned to Colorado with confidence and a sense of the competition they would face at this week's Nike Tournament of Champions.

The early tests paid off Thursday for Highlands Ranch, as the Falcons -- who lost to ESPN's No. 2 Sacred Heart Cathedral in Oregon -- pushed past 10th-ranked Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas in the TOC quarterfinals, 63-53.

"They weren't doubting as much as they were before (Oregon)," Highlands Ranch coach Caryn Jarocki said. "They saw that they can be competitive, so I think that was a huge thing we did going there."

The Gaels struggled as Texas-bound leader Ashley Gayle was held to just two points, the second consecutive game she scored in single digits.

Sophomore Aaryn Ellenburg led Bishop Gorman with 20 points, while Oregon signee Darriell Gaynor scored 15 as the Gaels made it a one- shot game in the second half.

"I think we (got scared)," Falcons' senior Alyssa Fressle said. "But there's a point in the game where you have to either go away or step it up and we just stepped it up."

Especially Fressle, who was the star of the show, who scored 23 points as the main force, offensively and emotionally, behind the Falcons' push for the win.

"That's her gift," Jarocki said. "That's what she's strong at. And when she's shooting, it helps everybody else because Alyssa's being guarded."

Junior Meagan Fulps and senior Taylor Johnson each added 14 for Highlands Ranch, which has been looking forward to a matchup against Long Beach Poly since seeing them play at the Oregon tournament.

"The kids want to play them," Jarocki said. "I think now they're into it. They want to see how they stack up against all these other teams now."

The Falcons face No. 4 Long Beach Poly, which beat Archbishop Carroll, 46-29. The Jackrabbits lost in the Nike Northwest Invitational championship to Sacred Heart.

On the flip side of the bracket, top-ranked Notre Dame Academy battled a tough Auburn Riverside squad, but pulled away in the second half to a 51-41 victory.

"I knew how good this team was going to be," Notre Dame Academy coach Mike Teasley said. "And I knew what we could struggle with early, but I have kids that have been here. We weren't rattled."

Florida signee Azania Stewart led all scorers with 20 points, while Notre Dame teammate Mia Nickerson contributed 13.

For the Ravens, who won the 2007 3A state title in Washington and hadn't lost since January, the loss wasn't something to cry about.

"It was an amazing feeling," sophomore Mercedes Wetmore said. "Only four teams every year get to play the No. 1 team (at the TOC), so we wanted it bad. But they're just that good."

Wetmore led the Ravens with 18 points, including 12 from behind the arc, while Washington State-bound senior Katie Grad added 12.

Next up for No. 1 Notre Dame Academy is Southridge, of Beaverton, Ore. The Skyhawks advanced with a 50-44 victory against Sequoyah. USC-bound Michelle Jenkins led the Skyhawks with 16 points, while Arizona State-bound Alex Earl scored 15.

"They're a really good team," Southridge coach Michael Meek said of NDA. "We're going to have to come and play better."

Friday's Black Bracket Schedule
(all games at Hamilton High unless otherwise noted)
Notre Dame Academy vs. Southridge, 4:20 p.m.
Highlands Ranch vs. Long Beach Poly, 5:40 p.m.

Shelbyville Central vs. Narbonne, 11 a.m.
Sapulpa vs. Punahou, 12:20 p.m.
Auburn Riverside vs. Sequoyah, 1:40 p.m.
Bishop Gorman vs. Archbishop Carroll, 3 p.m.

At Perry High
Lynwood vs. Ursuline Academy, 11 a.m.
Christ the King vs. H.D. Woodson, 12:20 p.m.

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