In ruling Class 4A for four seasons, Mullen’s dominance has been thorough as the Mustangs faced virtually everything a basketball campaign had to offer during the era, notably the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, injuries and adding new faces to the mix.
But perhaps the one thing that hadn’t happened was being tested in the championship game. As a matter of fact, their 18 consecutive playoff victories were won by an average of 31.1 points, including two of the finales by an average of 21 points.
So Saturday’s gutsy 44-38 decision of a previously undefeated Windsor at historic Denver Coliseum not only checked off the box, but it underlined what Mullen has been doing to 4A since the Class of 2022 enrolled in 2018.
“It has been an adventure and they did what champions do,” head coach Frank Cawley said. “They did what they had to do to win the game.”
And they did it late – Mullen, after threatening to run away and hide even after a so-so first half, overcame a very game surge by the Wizards to take control in the final minutes and win their fourth consecutive title – they tied with rival Holy Family in 2020 after COVID wiped out the championship game – and eighth in program history.
“There was adversity staring us right in the face,” Cawley said, “and we battled through it.”:
Said senior and Texas Tech-bound Kilah Freelon: “It feels amazing. It’s the best feeling ever, especially with my best friends.”
It was Mullen's 81st sanctioned title
In a slow-paced game with shooting in which neither team could surpasses 33 percent, Windsor, which ended 26-1, outscored the Mustangs 19-5 in the third quarter to take a 31-29 lead.
“The shots weren’t falling,” senior and UC-San Diego signee Gracie Gallegos said, “but we were able to pick it up.”
They did – key baskets and free throws by Freelon, Hannah Giacomin and Imani Perez broke a tie at 33 as the Mustangs were able to stay one step ahead of Windsor, which had issues with Mullen’s usual defensive performance, both inside and outside.
Indeed, the Wizards’ zone and pressure out front helped keep it in the game, but Mullen’s height and 11 blocked shots also were factors to offset the Wizards’ scrappy rebounding performance that produced a 33-26 edge.
Said Hawaii signee Perez, who was 6-of-6 on free throws in the fourth quarter: “I do think we had a little bit of stress and didn’t know what to do, but we all came together and pulled through.”
Only seven Mustangs played, but each contributed and/or earned some experience for a run next season.
Tops in scoring was sophomore Allison Schwertner, a solid starter whose 11 points came in the first half.
Gallegos and Perez, four-year starters, combined for 12 points and nine rebounds.
Freelon had eight points and seven rebounds.
Giacomin came off the bench for seven points and Evenyce Gutierrez added six.
And freshman Tatum Jones, who had some time during the season as a starter and played herself into the rotation, got in for nearly a quarter.
Fittingly, said Cawley, doused in the locker room afterward by his elated group, said his five seniors were on the floor at the end and the point output of 44 rang true to his team’s championship string.
The man has been part of seven Colorado championships – five leading Mustangs girls, one assisting with Mustangs boys and another in the 1990s while helping rival Cherry Creek.
“This is something you’ll always remember,” he told his group. “This is special and your experience out there is something you’ll be able to talk about for the rest of your lives.
“Championships are permanent. You have accomplished something a lot of others weren’t able to do.”
Over the four seasons, Mullen was a sparkling 78-23. All of the losses were to 5A teams or out-of-state opponents. None were in 4A. And of the 19 playoff victories in a row, only three opponents scored into the 50s.
In 2021-22, only two Mullen foes in the postseason made it into the 30s.
And in a time for scholastic basketball when there is clamoring nationally for a shot clock and 3-pointers are fired at will, “defense begins everything we do,” Cawley said.
“This was a very special group and I’m proud of each of them.”
MULLEN 44, WINDSOR 38
Mullen 10 14 5 15 -- 44
Windsor 5 7 19 7 -- 38
Mullen -- Gutierrez 3 0-0 6, Perez 1 6-6 9, Freelon 3 2-5 8, Schwertner 2 6-6 11, Gallegos 1 1 1-2 3, Giacomin 2 2-4 7, Jones 0 0-0 0. Totals 44 12 17-23 44.
3-pt. goals – Giacomin, Perez, Schwertner.
NOTE: Here are Mullen’s postseason scores during its four-year championship run:
Coronado W, 71-18
Berthoud W, 77-31
Roosevelt W, 59-27
Green Mountain W, 55-25
Windsor W, 44-38
Durango, W, 89-30
Canon City W, 69-22
Falcon W, 87-53
Holy Family W, 75-50
Windsor W, 67-44
Cheyenne Mountain W, 86-42
Montrose W, 65-40
Canon City W, 70-33
Berthoud W, 64-57 OT
Championship cancelled because of COVID-19
Thompson Valley W, 77-21
Pueblo West W, 49-45
Montrose W, 62-28
Holy Family W, 55-33
Pueblo South W, 63-44