COLORADO SPRINGS (2/28/17) — “All year we believed we could do this — a 13-seed upsetting a 4-seed,” Rifle’s Elly Walters said after the Lady Bears did just that in a 42-35 overtime win at Air Academy Tuesday. Distributing praise to her teammates in a post-game interview as well as assists on the court, Walters added, “Peyton (Caldwell) was huge, the twins (Katy and Karly Manuppella) were awesome, Sam (Hinkle) kept battling, and we got it done at the free throw line,” where Rifle hit six straight in OT to pull away from the Kadets.
Coach Kristy Wallner, after the Lady Bears outscored the Kadets 11-4 in the extra four minutes, asking, “Can you repeat that question about winning a Sweet 16 game to advance to the Great 8 again? It doesn’t get old.”
Down four points with four minutes to go in regulation, Walters popped a 3-pointer on a pass from Katy Manuppella, and with 3:13 left, the Kadets’ Kylee Blacksten drew her 4th foul, sending Karly Manuppella to the line, where she tied the game at 31. Blacksten’s foul trouble proved significant for Rifle’s defense as well.
Academy’s leading scorer, Katelin Gallegos, was held to just two baskets in three quarters by Hinkle, but had posted up for a pair of buckets after Hinkle picked up her 4th foul early in the 4th period.
Walters had been concentrating on Blacksten, a 6-1 freshman point guard whose back-to-back 3-pointers in the 2nd quarter helped the Kadets overcome an early 8-0 Rifle lead. Walters’ defense held her to a single free throw in the second half, and “when she (Blacksten) got in foul trouble, I switched off to help Sam on Gallegos,” Walters explained, which led to a steal when the Kadets went inside to their 5-ll senior with two minutes to go in the fourth. But the Bears also turned the ball over leading to a dramatic final 80 seconds.
The Kadets’ Brook Sulski crossed half court, and with the Bears sagging back to defend the key and Gallegos, the senior guard stayed near the mid court line, bouncing the ball unchallenged for over a minute. With 12 seconds remaining, Sulski drove and dished to sophomore Liza Louthan on the baseline, but Karly Manuppella cut her off, forcing a shot that bounced off the rim as time ran out.
The overtime belonged to Caldwell and a trio of Bear free throw shooters. Air Academy won the jump, but Walters closed in on Gallegos and tied her up, earning back the possession. Hinkle tried a three that missed, but Caldwell, a senior possibly playing her last game, helped prolong her high school career by putting back the rebound for a 33-31 Rifle lead with 2:35 left.
Blacksten missed a trey, rebounded by Walters, who was fouled and converted both ends of a one-and-one, making her 6-for-6 from the line in the game and kicking the lead to four. Sulski traveled, and Gallegos fouled Karly Manuppella a second later, resulting in two more free throws and a 37-31 lead with 1:23 to go.
Academy finally scored with 1:04 remaining when Gallegos made two from the line, but Katy Manuppella answered a second later, making Rifle 6-for-6 from the stripe in OT.
After Gallegos rebounded an errant 3-pointer. the Kadets, who didn’t commit a turnover in the 4th quarter, were whistled for their third miscue in the extra period
A foul with 30 seconds left sent Karly Manuppella back to the line. She missed both tries, but Caldwell wrestled the ball from a Kadet rebounder, looped it back up and in for the dagger and a 41-33 lead with 20 seconds to go. “Peyton keeps us together,” Walters said. Wallner put it another way: “Peyton brings our gorilla glue. She saved our game against Green Mountain,” by keeping a ball in play that resulted in Hinkle’s winning free throws to get the Bears to the Sweet Sixteen.
Walters’ 16 points and 9 boards led the Bears, with Katy Manuppella adding eight and Caldwell 6 to go with 6 rebounds. Hinkle had 7 boards as the Bears outrebounded a team featuring four 5-11 players and one 6-1, 34-16. Gallegos led the Kadets with 14 points.
Rifle (22-3) is the lone Western Slope League survivor, boys or girls, as the Palisade girls were defeated by third-seeded Evergreen, 41-32.
Now, the Lady Bears, the only double-digit seed remaining in what was a 48-team bracket, will prepare for next Friday’s Great Eight game at fifth-seeded Windsor (19-6), which defeated Classical Academy, 37-33, on Tuesday.