PALISADE (2/26/11) The red and black three-year reign came to an end as blue and gold Roaring Fork fans celebrated their team’s 60-55 3A Western Slope District championship over Aspen, on the Palisade High School court where not long before, the Rifle Lady Bears displayed the same colors as they completed their undefeated march to the girls district crown, 49-41 over Olathe.

“This (challenge) is what makes coaching fun,” Rifle coach Stephanie Heald said after her team trailed at halftime for only the second time all season. The Bears survived eight lead changes in the third quarter, along with an injury in Friday’s semifinal that limited scoring leader Cortney Cordova to no first-half points. “I’d love to play Olathe again,” Heald said of a possible third meeting in the state championship March 12 at CSU in Fort Collins.

Roaring Fork’s Larry Williams was no less excited. “These are special kids,” he said after a 25-14 fourth quarter surge insured that Roaring Fork would host its first regional in four years next weekend. “We’ve been working on mental toughness since we lost in Aspen,” (56-53 on Feb. 11) Williams said.
And they played without perhaps their toughest player, the solid sophomore Trae Moxley, who injured his right ankle early in the 41-36 semifinal win over Grand Valley the night before. The 6-5 Moxley already had pulled down 9 rebounds when he had to be helped off the court three minutes into the second quarter.

He was suited up for the Aspen game, but didnt set foot on the court until Jake Strack Loertscher grabbed a missed free throw by teammate Dakotah Grett with 14 seconds left, maintaining Ram possession with a 58-55 lead. Moxley came leaping off the bench as time out was called, causing the senior Loertscher to caution him to take it easy. The only other Ram senior, Dalton Handy, was fouled with 11 seconds remaining, making the second free throw, which essentially put the game out of Aspen’s reach. “I coached Dalton and Jake as freshmen; they’re two of the reasons I took the job,” (as Rams head coach) Williams added.

Aspen led only once in the game, early in the first quarter, and trailed by 14 after Handy hit a 3-pointer and Loertscher turned a steal into a layup one minute into the final period. But freshman Clayton Crawford swished a pair of deep treys, and Friday’s hero Quinn Morehead sank another before Mike Schwartz and Bridger Dawson scored on put-backs in a 16-6 Skier run that cut the margin to four. Trenton Reeds slowed the onslaught with a pair of free throws with 1:54 remaining, but Morehead drove the baseline for two and after a missed Ram free throw, Dawson splashed a three-pointer from the top of the key, slicing the lead to one, 54-53 with 1:15 to play.

Grett and Sam Carpenter made 4 of 6 free throws around an Aspen turnover, extending the lead to 58-55, preceding Moxley’s dash onto the court.

Grett and Handy each scored 14, with the senior guard also dishing out 7 assists and making 3 of 4 three-pointers. The Rams made 9 of 19 deep shots, frustrating the Skier 1-3-1 zone. “They shot our lights out,” twelve-year Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said in congratulating Williams after the game. Dawson led the Skiers with 20 points.

“Coach (Heald) said I had to be more aggressive,” Cordova said after taking just two shots as Olathe took a 22-19 first-half lead, so on the opening possession of the third quarter Cordova, who has averaged 20.6 points per game this season, nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game. She wound up with 10 second-half points, but had ample help from teammates in earning the Bears the second seed in the 32-team 3A state tournament.

Tresa Berner hit 5 of 6 free throws during the see-saw third period, and crisp passing from Makayla Wilkins to Cordova to Haydn Holgate resulted in the basket that put the Bears ahead for good, 33-32, with Wilkins two free throws pushing the lead to three points going into the final quarter.

Morgan Stansberry, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds when the Pirates were edged by the Bears, 44-42 in Olathe in January, closed the gap to 35-34 on a put back to start the fourth, but the Rams ran off eight straight, fueled by Figueira’s work on the offensive glass and a pair of baskets by Wilkins for a 43-34 lead with 4:22 to play.

A 3-point play by Cordova on an offensive rebound pushed the lead to 10, but Tawni Middleton, who matched Stansberry’s 15 points, knocked down a three-pointer, and Emily Brummitt’s jumper closed the gap to five with 2:10 remaining. Cordova made a pair of free throws with 52 seconds left, and Olathe missed three desperate bombs to end the upset bid.

Cordova led the Bears with her 10 second-half points. Berner had 9 with 6 rebounds and Racheal Keithley played a fine all-around game, adding 9 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. Wilkins had 8 points and Figueira 7 with 6 rebounds.