DENVER — As the likes of senior Clayton Wright and freshman Madden Smiley stepped to the free throw line in the waning moments of Windsor’s boys basketball quarterfinals game against Longmont, they and their Wizards teammates performed like they had been there before.

The frustrating part over the past couple years, this particular group of Windsor basketball players hadn’t really been in this particular situation before.

The Wizards have routinely entered the postseason with high expectations in recent years, only to see their playoff runs end prematurely.

On Thursday at the Denver Coliseum, third-seeded Windsor assured it would be one of the final teams standing in the Class 5A boys basketball playoffs with a 62-56 win against No. 11 Longmont — a team the Wizards went 1-1 against during the regular season.

Windsor’s Colby Shuck Backhaus, left, fights for the loose ball against Longmont’s Kaden Rose while playing at the Denver Coliseum on Thursday March, 2, 2023. The Wizards went on to win the game to advance in the 5A playoffs.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

“There are a lot of teams that are at home, wishing they were here, and we’ve been in that boat before,” Windsor coach Jon Rakiecki said. “You take your lumps. This program has seen some heart break. … We went through that and came out on the other side. And now, we’re victorious.”

The Windsor will strive for two more victories during the final week of the season.

Windsor improved to 22-4, winning its 16th consecutive game and punching its ticket to a semifinals date with No. 2 Mesa Ridge (26-0) at 7:15 p.m. March 10 back at the Denver Coliseum.

The Grizzlies advanced to the round of 4 with a 65-55 win against No. 7 Dakota Ridge (21-5) on Thursday.

Regardless of what happens in next week’s semifinals, the Wizards have already shaken a bit of a monkey off their backs by advancing to the final two rounds of the five-round 32-team state tournament.

A year ago, Windsor was the eighth seed and advanced only to the second round, the Round of 32, of the 4A state tournament, suffering an upset in its first playoff action following a first-round bye.

Two years ago, the Wizards were the top seed but fell in the Round of 8.

Windsor’s David Hageman, right, drives to the basket against Longmont’s Bau Brush while playing at the Denver Coliseum on March 2, 2023. The Wizards won the game 62-56 to advance in the 5A playoffs next week.(Jim Rydbom/Staff Photographer)

This year, they weren’t going to be denied their chance to play during the final couple days of the season, despite some tense moments in Thursday’s quarterfinal.

Neither team led by more than two baskets until Windsor went on a run that spanned the third and fourth quarters, taking a 55-47 lead on Wright’s free throw with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left.

Longmont struck right back, continuing its game-long hot perimeter shooting to cut the gap to 55-53 with 2:19 left.

The Wizards didn’t buckle, converting defensive stops and opportunities at the free throw line in crunch time.

“We’ve been preparing for these moments,” Windsor senior swingman David Hageman said. “Our boys came up clutch — Clayton, Madden, John (Reed). They made their free throws. It just felt great.”

Bobby Fernandez covers high school sports for the Greeley Tribune. Reach him at (970) 392-4478, by email at or on Twitter @BobbyDFernandez.

This article was originally published in Greeley Tribune