KMTS PLAYOFFS: Lady Bears, Rams Into Great 8 at CSU

RIFLE (3/5/11) — “It feels amazing!” Rifle Lady Bears coach Stephanie Heald said after a two-year trek, first through the 4A ranks, then the 3A Western Slope League, culminated in a 42-24 Sweet 16 win over Manitou Springs and vaulted her team into the 3A Great 8 state tournament at CSU.
Those sentiments were echoed by two of the senior Bears who made the journey with their coach, Cortney Cordova and Racheal Keithley, “I am so blessed to be on this team,” Keithley said as she watched her teammates climb a ladder and cut down a portion of the net symbolizing the regional championship Saturday in the Bears’ Den.

After Rifle sailed through the 4A Western Slope League with a 14-0 record last season, the Bears were seeded second in their region, received a first-round bye, then narrowly defeated Lewis Palmer 45-42 in the second round, before falling, at home, to 3rd-seeded Cheyenne Mountain, 64-54. “Were not looking back,” Heald said.

For a few minutes Saturday, there was a flashback feeling as Manitou scored the first six points and led 8-2 halfway through the opening quarter, but the Bears defense clamped down, shutting out the Mustangs the 3:55 to trail just 8-4, despite a 1-for-11 shooting performance. In the second quarter, Rifle’s offense — in the form of Cordova, got untracked.

Her 3-point play following a hustle play on the floor by Haydn Holgate gave Rifle its first lead, 11-8, two minutes into the period. Held scoreless in the first half of the District championship game with Olathe a week ago after injuring her wrist the night before, Cordova said, “My wrist is fine. I’ve been doing what the doctor said, icing it,” but the Bears’ senior scoring leader turned up the heat on the Mustangs, scoring 10 points in both the second and third quarters as Rifle rolled to a 16-3 second period and extended the lead to 34-20 going into the final frame.

“We changed up our defense,” Heald explained, as the Bears switched from a zone to man-to-man in the second period, forcing nine Mustang turnovers. And back-to-back baskets by Manitou to open the second half resulted in a rare time out called by Heald. “We weren’t moving our feet on defense,” the coach said, and Rifle quickly went on an 8-0 run, fueled by a pair of Holgate-to-Cordova three-pointers.

Cordova finished with 23 points for both the first-round and Sweet 16 games. Keithley, who remarked, “I don’t know what was going on with my shot today,” was perfect from the line where she scored all 6 of her points, played rock-solid defense, and grabbed 13 rebounds. Holgate and Makayla Wilkins each had 4 assists, and Jasmine Figueira had 6 boards and two assists and sparked a 7-0 Bears’ run to halftime.

The Bears’ Anita Stites-Rowland Region has them meeting number 7 Eaton (21-3, winner of the Patriot League) Thursday, March 10 in CSUs Moby Gym in Fort Collins, and the Colorado Activities Association (CHSAA) basketball bulletin does not indicate the eight finalists will be re-seeded. If this is an accurate interpretation, the winner of the Rifle-Reds game will meet the Estes Park (no. 6, 18-6) – Pagosa Springs (no. 3, 23-0) winner in the Final 4.

On the opposite side of the bracket, two upset winners, number 12 Machebeuf (18-6), which defeated host Olathe (no. 5, 19-5) 44-38, and number 20 Jefferson Academy (17-7), 41-35 over number 4 Classical Academy (21-2), will face off to see who meets the winner of number one seed, three-time defending state champion Holy Family (23-1) and Pinnacle (no. 8, 19-6), which eliminated Coal Ridge 48-40 Friday and beat Valley 47-44 in overtime Saturday.

Eaton was knocked out of the tournament in the first round at home by Coal Ridge last year, 53-49.

CARBONDALE — Those cardiac kids, the Roaring Fork Rams, went overtime for the second straight game to win their regional championship, 82-72 over Weld County Saturday. The night before the 7th-seeded Rams (17-7) got by Bennett, 65-61 in overtime, and had also played three overtime games down the Western Slope League stretch, winning two.

The Rams’ opponent in the Great 8 at CSU also had to go overtime to reach Fort Collins. Number 15 Jefferson Academy (17-7) upset 2nd-seeded Colorado Springs Christian, handing the Lions (23-1), the only undefeated team in the tournament, their first loss of the season, 56-50 in double overtime on the CSC home court. Number 27 Brush (17-7) also took the upset route, knocking out number 6 Pinnacle, and no. 11 Manitou Springs and will play no. 3 Valley (20-4), which prevented Aspen (no. 14, 15-9) from reaching Ft. Collins for the fourth straight season, 63-56.

Roaring Fork last made the Great 8 in 2008, which ended a run of five straight appearances for Roger Walters’ team that included back-to-back runner-up finishes to Denver Christian in 05-06, a third-place finish in 04, and consolation championship in 07.