PARKER -- The end for Mullen wasn’t what the Mustangs wanted, falling 63-51 to host Chaparral on Wednesday in the Class 5A Sweet 16.
While their fun run to cap 2021-22 may not have approached Cinderella or “Hoosiers,” it certainly seemed a lot better than a final record of 10-15.
As the 46th seed in a field of 48, they also rolled Nos. 19 and 14 before bowing late to one of the big-school heavyweights.
Head coach Bob Caton offered no excuses or apologies.
“These kids gave tremendous effort,” he said.
Mullen was very much in the chase, trailing just 40-39 entering the fourth quarter. However, the Mustangs got in foul trouble as a team in allowing the Wolverines to hold a commanding edge in free throws (25-of-33 to 7-of-17), couldn’t overcome an inability to cut off driving lanes to the basket and suffered through shooting that suddenly turned cold.
Chaparral gradually pulled away and the Mustangs never regrouped.
“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Caton said in refering to his team’s chances to run away and hide. “But, yeah, they showed a lot of character, a lot of heart … these guys never gave up and they never will.”
Senior Micah Leslie went out swinging, going for a team-high 19 points. Another senior, Josh Lopez, added 11.
But for a team that began the season 0-3 and 1-4, and was 3-10 in the Centennial League, two must-wins to cap the regular season and knocking off two better seeds in the playoffs made for an exciting ending.
No other big-school 46th seed won two postseason games since the format switch to 48 teams following a 64-slot bracket over the past dozen seasons. And only two other No. 46 seeds made it past the preliminary round.
Caton said he was proud of the effort and results, and realized what was a prime factor – his players understood what he wanted and implemented it.
Coaches, even veteran ones such as Caton, can’t ask for more.
“We started taking care of the ball better, things that are better for the team,” he said. “It was a great run and thse are all greta kids, it was fun.
“Doggone, it’s just over.”
CHAPARRAL 63, MULLEN 51
Mullen 11 11 17 12 -- 51
Chaparral 14 9 17 23 -- 63
Mullen – J. Leslie 2 1-4 6, Lopez 3 2-2 11, Heffern 1 0-0 3, Smith 0 0-2 0, M. Leslie 9 1-3 19, Lay 3 2-3 8, Roth 0 1-3 1, Jerez 0 0-0 0, Diasselliss 1 0-0 3. Totals 19 7-17 51.
3-pt. goals – Lopez 3, Diasselliss, Heffern, J. Leslie.