DENVER (3-3-12) –The Rifle Lady Bears played a regional tournament worthy of making the trip to the Great Eight 3A state championship in Fort Collins next weekend, but fell one point short, losing to Denver School of Science and Technology, 44-43 in the Sweet Sixteen final at â€œDaddy Bruceâ€ Randolph Middle School in Denver Saturday.
The Bears blistered the net to begin the regional championship game by taking a 12-0 lead and were up by 15 with 3 minutes left in the third quarter, but led by 6-1 sophomore Bailee Cotton, the Knights (23-1) scored the first 8 points of the fourth quarter.
Rifle, leading 35-28 at the beginning of the period, played slow-down in an effort to run clock and hold the lead, but turned the ball over 6 times, allowing the Knights to take their first lead, 36-35 with 4:40 left in the game. Cotton had 3 steals in that stretch as Denver\'s full-court man press and physical play on defense took its toll.
Rifle regained the lead twice down the stretch on 3-pointers by Ashley Rickstrew with 2:50 remaining and another by Chante Church to go ahead 43-42 at the 1:20 mark, but couldn\'t hold on. Cotton got the ball into her heftier junior sister Bradlee, who appeared to take extra steps getting around a defender, then dropped in the winning basket with one minute to play.
Figueira missed a jumper with 40 seconds left and the elder Cotton grabbed the rebound. The Bears (19-5) wouldn\'t get the ball back as they were three fouls short of being able to send Denver to the line and officials ignored obvious foul attempts. The last play of the game typified the inconsistencies of the referees as Cotton was pushed from behind with the ball rolling free as the final 5 seconds expired without a whistle.
The Bears, led by Kailee Cordova's 3 steals (she would have 7 for the game) played stifling defense in taking a 12-0 first quarter lead before the Frontier League titlists scored the final 4 points, then opened the second quarter by drawing within three, 12-9. Church, who would sink 8 of 16 three pointers for the weekend, splashed another one as the Bears pushed the lead back to 6.
This pattern continued throughout the loosely officiated game. With four minutes left in the half, another Church trey, followed by a jumper from Tani Jorgenson, both coming on Jasmine Figueira assists, gave Rifle a 20-11 lead, only to see the once-beaten Knights run off seven straight points, led by a steal, layup and free throw from Bailee Cotton.
Figueira halted that run with a weaving layup through the Denver Tech zone, then drove and dished back to Cordova for a three just before the half, giving the Bears a 25-20 lead.
Rifle began the second half just like the first quarter, scoring the first 10 points, six by Joey Kuheim, to take a 35-20 lead five minutes into the third, but the Knights\' full-court press forced four consecutive turnovers by the Bears and DSST scored the final 8 points to set up the heartbreaking finish.
Church led the Bears with 14 points, making 4 three-pointers in both regional games; Kuheim had 12, with Rickstrew and Cordova scoring 5 each, Kailee also grabbing 6 rebounds to go with her 7 steals. Figueira, though scoring just two points, played a magnificent game with 8 assists and 6 rebounds.
Bailee Cotton scored 21 with 6 rebounds and 4 steals, giving her 41 points, 10 boards and 12 thefts in the two-game regional. Freshman London Holland had 12 for the Knights before fouling out with 7 rebounds and 6 steals.
Four of Rifle\'s five starters will return next season when the Bears move back to the 4A Western Slope after two years at the 3A level. Playing their final game for the Lady Bears were Rickstrew, Jorgenson and Jordan Guray.
Listen to the game here: