DENVER (3-2-12) — There was a time when the number 23 was coveted on every basketball team… but though Michael Jordan\'s heroics are fading into sports history with this generation of high school hoopsters, Rifle\'s Chante Church and Denver Stapleton\'s Bailee Cotton were worthy of that number\'s past glories in leading their teams into the 3A Sweet Sixteen with regional victories at â€œDaddy Bruceâ€ Randolph High School Friday.
Church, completing an amazing comeback from a broken shooting wrist suffered January 19, drained four of seven 3-pointers and scored 25 points as the #10 Lady Bears (19-4) trounced #23 Middle Park, 64-33 to reach the regional championship against Cotton\'s number seven-ranked Knights (22-1), who ended a magical run for #26 Roaring Fork (14-9), 47-35 in the second game of the John Mraule region. Cotton, a 6-1 sophomore, scored 20 points and grabbed 8 steals in holding off a gritty effort by the Lady Rams.
Rifle girls 64, Middle Park 33
â€œThe girls said on the way here we\'ve got to come out and play well,â€ Rifle coach Stephanie Heald said after her team did just that, taking an 18-11 first quarter lead, then burying the Panthers with a second-quarter press that put Rifle up 34-19 at halftime. The Bears forced 18 turnovers in the first half, while committing just three themselves. Jasmine Figueira and Church led the thievery with three steals each and combined for 26 points by halftime. Figueira also had 5 assists and Church hit 3 of 5 treys by the half.
Leading 48 to 29 going into the fourth quarter, the Bears played a nearly flawless final frame, outscoring Middle Park (15-8) 16-4 in the final 8 minutes. Figueira finished with 12 points, 6 assists and 8 steals. Kailee Cordova had 4 assists and 5 steals and hit a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Joey Kuheim scored 11 despite foul trouble and Ashley Rickstrew added 9 points.
If the Bears can upset Denver Stapleton in Saturday\'s 11 a.m. contest, they will advance to the final eight at CSU in Fort Collins for the second straight season. The game can be heard on KMTS or online at kmts.com.
Denver (School of Science & Technology) Stapleton 47, Roaring Fork girls 35
Cotton and Jaelynn Smith, a freshman, each scored 6 points in the first quarter while the Lady Rams shot just 2 of 12 and had 8 turnovers in falling behind 15-5. â€œWe came out a little scared,â€ Roaring Fork coach Kirk Cheney said,â€but we didn\'t back down and by halftime, we were right there.â€
The Rams fell behind by 13 before junior twins Megan and Hattie Gianinetti sparked a 9-2 run up to halftime, closing the gap to 23-17. The Gianinettis scored 9 points, grabbed 5 steals and pulled down 4 rebounds in the quarter, in which Cotton picked up her third foul and went scoreless.
But Cotton returned with a vengeance in the third quarter, scoring 12 points, which included two treys and making 5 steals as Denver forced 9 turnovers in expanding the lead to 38-26. The Rams weren\'t quite finished however. â€œWe played our hearts out,â€ Cheney said, as his team cut the lead to 9, then 8 points on a Hattie Gianinetti 3-pointer with 1:14 to play. Cheney was particularly proud of â€œwhat we accomplished as a group from last year to this… The seniors set the bar for going forward.â€
Last year the Rams won 2 of 20 games, then tied Rifle for the Western Slope Northern Division lead this season with an 11-2 mark. The senior Lady Rams are Sharlene Salinas, Kenia Pinela, Kaleigh Wisroth, Kelley Farris, and Samantha Denard.
The junior Gianinettis each scored 13, with Megan grabbing 10 rebounds and Hattie 8, along with 4 assists and 5 steals. Sophomore Maddie Nieslanik had 7 points and 5 rebounds.
Cheney predicted that Rifle would match up well with Denver Stapleton if the Bears â€œkeep in good defensive order. We got out of position and let their guards take it to the hole. We hit the boards hard (Roaring Fork outrebounded Denver 39-25) but didn\'t finish at the hoop. Rifle matches up a little better than we do.â€
Other Western Slope Regional Results:
Girls: #5 Olathe won 48-31 over #28 Colorado Springs Christian
#27 Gunnison lost 54-44 to #6 Bayfield
#22 Grand Valley lost 52-32 to #11 Peak to Peak
Boys: #25 Rifle lost 73-47 to #8 Pinnacle
#21 Coal Ridge lost 42-35 to #12 Jefferson Academy
#13 Roaring Fork lost 61-54 to #20 La Junta
#7 Aspen won 66-28 over #26 Lake County
#27 Olathe lost 60-48 to #6 Pagosa Springs