CHAFFEE -- Way back in the early part of the this season, Saxony Lutheran came up short of upsetting Bernie as the Mules ran away in the fourth period.
In the rematch Tuesday night in the Class 3 District 2 semifinals, the Crusaders ran into a team that was vastly improved.
Bernie wasted no time putting this one out of doubt, scoring the first 19 points of the second quarter during an 80-48 thrashing.
The Mules, ranked No. 3 in the Class 2 state rankings, improved to 25-3. They will face Advance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the district championship game.
Those teams have split two games this season, but even Advance has not seen this version of Bernie.
Six-foot-5 junior Jake Smith, playing in his third game since suffering an injury in the Bloomfield Invitational, scored 11 points Tuesday and gave Saxony problems in the middle.
Add to that 23 points from junior Jacob Owens, who hit four 3-pointers, and 16 from point guard Jake Welch.
"They're deeper," Saxony Lutheran senior Bret Steffens said. "I think they only played six guys last time. They played eight and just wore us down."
In the Dec. 11 meeting, Saxony was within two points after three periods before Bernie pulled away for a 57-43 win.
Saxony this time around had a fast start but was outscored 33-8 in a 12-minute span to close the first half.
"We came out and shot well in the first quarter," Steffens said, "but in the second quarter, they wore us down. We were tired and standing around, and they just knocked us down and wouldn't let us back up."
The Crusaders, who finished 21-4 and spent some time in the state poll as well this year, raced off to a 15-6 start in the first period and grabbed a 19-15 lead after one quarter when Bryant Steffens knocked down a 3-pointer at the buzzer on a well-designed play.
But the onslaught was about to begin.
After Owens hit a shot to open the second quarter, Welch scored back-to-back baskets to give Bernie its first lead at 21-19. Owens then knocked down a 3-pointer, junior Zach Curry (10 points) scored on a nice feed from Welch and sophomore Jordan McGowan and Smith converted back-to-back three-point plays. Owens' jumper capped the 19-0 run, which required just 3 minutes, 17 seconds and made the score 34-19.
"We missed some easy shots," Bret Steffens said, "and we couldn't stop the bleeding soon enough to give us a chance."
Saxony saw one of Bernie's best efforts this season.
"I think right now we're playing about as well we have all year," Bernie coach Brad Botsch said. "There are a lot of players showing a lot of confidence out there."
For Saxony, Bret Steffens was the only player in double figures with 16 points. Bryant Steffens finished with nine, hitting two 3-pointers. Those two seniors, along with fellow senior starters Chris Roth and Garrett Fritsche, will turn their attention to baseball to try to add to Saxony's winning ways.
The Crusaders captured district titles this school year in their two fall boys sports -- soccer and cross country.
"They know what it takes to win," Bret Steffens said of his fellow seniors. "All three have been successful in every sport they've played. They know how to win, it's just a matter of putting it all together. We had a great season; we just came up a little short."
@z_agate_no tab_no indnt_bld ld:SAXONY LUTHERAN (48) -- Trevor Mabuce 5, Kristopher Cook 7, Chris Roth 4, Shawn Hadler 2, Bret Steffens 16, Bryant Steffens 9, Clay Roth 1, Garret Fritsche 4. FG 14, FT 15-25, F 11 (3-pointers: Bry. Steffens 2, Mabuce 1, Cook 1, Fritsche 1. Fouled out: None)
BERNIE (80) -- Cameron Shipman 3, Jake Welch 16, Jacob Owens 23, Ethan Allen 2, Zach Curry 10, Daniel Becking 5, Jake Smith 11, Jordan McGowan 8. FG 33, FT 8-9, F 16 (3-pointers; Owens 4, Shipman 1, McGowan 1. Fouled out: None)