KMTS BASKETBALL: Rifle Run Ends One Game Shy of Final Four

WINDSOR (3/3/17) – There were tears all around as the Rifle Lady Bears’ run from the thirteen seed to the Final Four, and their 17-game winning streak, came to an end, 56-43 on the home court of number-five seed Windsor Friday night.

The Wizards (20-6), who finished second in the Tri-Valley League, came out blazing, making 7 of their first 8 shots, including 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. Rifle, which led only once in the game on Elly Walters’ opening three, hung close with Samantha Hinkle burying back-to-back shots beyond the arc, trailing just 12-11 with 3:30 to go in the first quarter.

But Hollie Hoffman and Michaela Moran, who nailed her first 3 treys in the quarter, each went deep to expand the lead to seven, the Wizards leading 20-13 after one period. Windsor made 8-of-11 shots for the quarter and 4-of-5 3-pointers, so it figured the Wizards couldn’t maintain that pace, and they didn’t but Karly Mathern opened the second quarter with yet another triple for a ten-point lead.

After that, the Wizards came back to earth, missing their next six shots and going scoreless for five minutes. However, after Walters hit a 3-pointer at the 6:11 mark, Rifle also went scoreless for nearly five minutes, not making up much ground. It appeared the Bears had closed the gap to four with 4:50 to go when Hinkle drove the baseline, was trapped but dished the ball to Walters in the corner for yet another long-distance bomb. The substantial Rifle crowd exploded, no one hearing a referee’s whistle on Hinkle for traveling before the shot, and the scoreboard never changed.

Finally, with 2:20 to go in the half, Madi Denzel scored a second-chance basket for Windsor, and after a time out, Hinkle nailed her third trey in three tries, followed by two free throws from Walters to cut the score to 25-21 with 1:03 remaining.

But Moran, Windsor’s leading scorer, averaging 10.7 a game, blew past her defender for a layup and Ally Kennis nailed her team’s sixth trey of the half for a 30-21 lead at intermission.

The advantage was extended to eleven on Windsor’s opening possession, but the Bears made one last push to keep their hope of reaching next week’s final four at the Denver Coliseum. Walters fueled an 8-0 run with a pair of 3-pointers, and the Manuppella twins, Katy and Karly became the first Rifle players besides Hinkle and Walters to score. Katy’s 3-pointer, followed by her 3-point play tied the game at 35 with 3:53 left in the quarter.

That was the last gasp, however, as Moran quickly buried another three and Mathern hit a pair of jumpers in the last 30 seconds for a 7-0 answer and 42-35 lead going into the final quarter.

The margin swung between seven and eleven points as Windsor made 9-of-12 from the free throw line to keep the Bears at bay. Walters, a junior, whose father Roger resigned as the Rifle boys basketball coach this week, matched Moran with 20 points.

The Bears actually wound up making more three-pointers than Windsor, hitting 9-of-23, with Walters’ 5-of-11 leading the attack and Hinkle winding up 3-of-5. But Rifle could make just 4-of-22 inside the arc and also had 18 turnovers to just 8 for the Wizards. Hinkle finished her high school career scoring 15 points and grabbing 7 rebounds. She is one of five Bear seniors along with Carley Rice, Kenia Chavez, Mackenzie Ventrello, and Lauren Arnold.

Rifle was the only Western Slope 4A team to reach the Great Eight, Palisade having lost to Evergreen 50-29 in the Sweet Sixteen. Thanks to the Bears’ upset of number-four Air Academy in that round, fifth-seeded Windsor, joins the top three-rated teams in the Final Four, including number-one Pueblo South (24-2), which got past Golden, 50-47, number-two Pueblo West (23-3), a 58-48 winner over Mesa Ridge, number-three Evergreen (23-3), which defeated Valor Christian, 59-40.