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Surprise! Mustangs take down host Angels

By Neil H. Devlin, Mullen Sports Information Director
Resilient No. 23 Mullen stuns No. 10 Denver East 57-55; Mustangs move to 9-6 and will be at George Washington for 5A Rounf II on Thursday.
How sweet it is!

No need to put the proverbial Cinderella tag on Mullen … at least, not yet.

No, the Mustangs have been playing well of late, so even their 57-55 road victory at Denver East on Tuesday night to open the Class 5A playoffs isn’t that big of a shocker.

Then again, it is …

“What a game, huh?” an elated Mustangs head coach Bob Caton said.

Caton is approaching 550 career victories and his team, now 9-6 and the No. 23 seed in the field, just edged the No. 10-seeded Angels, who are headed by the legendary Rudy Carey, second on the all-time Colorado list with 847. As a matter of fact, pregame announcements included the Angels’ being at “(847) Rudy Carey Way” and East just doesn’t go out in the first round.

But it did on Tuesday

“Yeah, that’s one of the big ones for me,” Caton said. ”It was our kids, they just played so well, gutted it out ... I can’t say enough for the whole group. We kept coming back.”

That they did – neither team came close to leading by double digits and the Mustangs refused to get buried by the Angels, who ended 10-4 and threatened to run away and hide at three different junctures.      

However, Mullen refused to be denied. The Mustangs appeared in trouble when trailing by 50-43 with less than 3 minutes to go. But no problem. They cut it to 50-45 and got within 52-50 on consecutive steals, and a 3-pointer by senior Brayden Carter and an inside move by junior Micah Leslie.

The Angels didn’t score again. Carter, large all night as he has been throughout the season with a game-high 21 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots before fouling out, drilled another 3-pointer as Mullen took the lead for good with 1:02 to play and the Mustangs drew an offensive foul for a turnover 20 seconds later. Leslie added two free throws as did Sean Berg, his with 8.4 seconds to play.

Breaths were held into the final buzzer as Leslie missed a free throw, East rebounded and the very talented Quis Davis got into a three-quarter court heave of a shot that bounced off the rim and sent the Mustangs into Thursday’s Round II at George Washington, a previous coaching stop for Caton.

“Yeah,” said Leslie, who went for 12 points, seven rebounds and a couple of blocked shot, “it’s my first playoff win, a great team win. We knew we could take it. We started off strong and our defense was the key to winning the game and we did it.”

Said Carter: “Beating (the Angels) on their home floor feels really good … it was the best team victory of the season.”

A season ago, the Mustangs lost to Denver East 79-65 in a tournament at Hutchison Fieldhouse before getting wiped out by 94-50 at the Angels’ gym a month later.

“It was just a playoff atmosphere,” Berg said. “We lost to them by, like, 40, so it was a revenge game.”

Mullen, which the past Saturday secured its first winning record (7-6) in the Centennial League since the 2005-06 season, also has nailed its fourth above-.500 year overall over the past 15, including two of the past three.

There’s room for more – Caton told his players Wednesday’s practice will be in the Old Gym, where he told them the Mustangs used to dominate.

“We keep coming back and that’s what we have to do,” he said.

As they left Denver East, he was offered no argument.

Mullen  10  10  15  22  --  57

Denver East  15  5  15  19  -- 55

Mullen – J. Leslie 2 1-2 6, Lopez 4 0-0 10, Berg 1 2-2 5, M. Leslie 5 2-3 12, Carter 8 2-2 21, Heffern 1 0-0 3, Dominguez 0 0-0 0, Schmitt 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 7-10 57.

Denver East – D’Au. Samuals 0 0-0 0, Dar. Samuals 0 0-0 0, Connelly 6 0-0 18, Kerr 2 0-0 4, Davis 6 1-3 16, Jackson 5 3-4 14, Squibb 0 0-0 0, Darre 1 0-0 3. Totals 20 5-7 55.

3-pt. goals – Carter 3, Lopez 2, Berg, Heffern, J. Leslie; Connelly 6, Davis 3, Darre, Jackson. Fouled out – Carter.