With two clear victories last weekend in Pagosa Springs, the Pirates earned a trip to Ft. Collins and a shot at the 3A girls’ state basketball crown for 2011.
Facing the 8-15 Buena Vista Demons on Friday night, the Pirates easily handled their opponents 37-25 to move onto the “Sweet 16” round of the state playoffs. The next afternoon, Pagosa showed tremendous class and superior athleticism, transcending the Gunnison Cowboy’s rough style of play while exhibiting enough finesse and self-control to overcome their opponents with a resounding 42-24 victory.
Having lost to Pagosa 53-33 on Dec. 4, the Demons were seeking revenge, as well as employing knowledge they’d gained about the Pirate’s strengths and weaknesses.
Despite playing a tough man defense, an aggressive full court press and pressuring Pagosa’s two key players (Mary Brinton and Breezy Bryant), the Demons were unable to handle the depth of the Pirates’ bench or handle Pagosa’s outside attack. With the Pirates holding Buena Vista outside the perimeter and robbing them of second looks, Pagosa got out to an early 16-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Demons kept up the defensive pressure, marking Brinton aggressively and taking advantage of some Pirate missteps on the rebound. Still, with Pagosa hanging just as tough on defense, both teams were held to just six points in the period, sending the teams to the locker room with the Pirates carrying a 22-14 at the half.
“I thought we weren’t very aggressive,” said Coach Wes Lewis regarding the last two thirds of the game. “We kind of quit looking to score as a team.”
Playing an extremely physical defense (knocking Brinton to the floor at least a dozen times), it looked as though the Demons hoped to overwhelm the Pirates through sheer brute force and intimidation. However, the old adage that basketball is not won on defense alone held true and while Pagosa more than matched Buena Vista on defense, the Pirates held enough of an edge on offense to render the Demon’s strategy useless.
The defensive battle continued through the second half, with the Demons’ pressure on Brinton backfiring and sending her to the free-throw line three times, where she scored four of the team’s seven points in the quarter (Bryant hit a three-pointer for the remainder) while being held to just six points.
With Pagosa ahead 29-20 going into the fourth, Buena Vista found its physical style of play working to its detriment, with key players Madison Osborne and Alex Mason in foul trouble early in the final period (Mason eventually fouled out late in the quarter). With Pagosa players dribbling out precious seconds and passing around for time mid-quarter, the Demons began to look like a team that knew their season was finished. Despite a late-game three-pointer by Osborne, the Demons sent Brooklynn DuCharme and Magan Kraetsch to the line, both of whom went two-for-two to cinch up an 8-5 advantage in the quarter and a 37-25 victory for the game.
“They were much improved (from Dec. 4) and certainly better than their record,” Lewis said about the Demons playing a close game.
Brinton led the team with 18 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Bryant and DuCharme both scored seven points, with Bryant tying Taylor Strohecker with three assists each.
The Gunnison Cowboys started and ended their season with losses to Pagosa — just desserts for a team (and its fans) showing little class on or off the court. With fans, coaching staff and players exhibiting boorish behavior, the Cowboys deserved the 41-24 pounding they suffered Saturday night.
However, the first half looked to redeem the rugged style. Out ahead 8-5 with 3:16 left in the first quarter (and Brinton fouled four times at that point), the Cowboys appeared to have the initiative.
With a time out called by Lewis, the Pirates appeared to settle in and shake off the pinching, punching and body blocks. With Brinton having capitalized from the free-throw line and Bryant freed up to fire from the perimeter (with three three-pointers), the Pirates finished the first quarter ahead 17-12.
Bryant continued with her hot hand, sinking another hat-trick of trips during the second quarter, showing the Cowboys that all their effort to contain Brinton had unleashed another weapon from outside the perimeter. With a bucket by Brinton and a point by DuCharme from the line, the Pirates outscored Gunnison 12-10 in the second, going into the half with a 29-22 lead.
Lewis said, “The kids did a really good job finding her (Bryant) and letting her knock them down in the bucket.”
As the saying goes, paybacks are a ... big pain. Although holding the Pirates to four points in the third (Brinton scoring under the rim and hitting two for four from the line), Pagosa held Gunnison scoreless in the quarter while capitalizing on numerous Cowboy turnovers.
Going into the fourth with a 33-22 lead, the Pirates found the Gunnison girls appearing to be playing out of nothing but anger and frustration. With Brinton going to the line another five times in the quarter (to score four of the Pirates’ eight points in the quarter while scoring another two points off a basket inside), and with Emily Bryant scoring on a breakaway layup in the final seconds, the Pirates finished the fourth, holding the Cowboys to just two points. Pagosa finished the night with a decisive 41-24 victory.
“I was really proud of our girls, defensively,” Lewis said. “We kept them to two points in the second half.”
Both Brinton and Breezy Bryant led with 18 points each — Bryant scored six three-pointers and Brinton hit 10-for-19 from the free throw line along with four buckets from the floor. Brinton also led with 12 rebounds while Bryant led on five assists. Brooklyn DuCharme hit three-for-four from the free-throw line to take third in scoring; all three girls scored two steals each.
With Saturday’s win over Gunnison, the Pirates face the sixth-ranked Estes Park Bobcats (18-6) Thursday night at 5:30 p.m. in the first round of the Great Eight championship bracket in Fort Collins. Although the Bobcats hit a rough patch mid-season in the extremely tough Patriot conference (which also includes Great Eight participant and seventh-ranked 21-3 Eaton Reds) after losing star player Kimmy Hansen to an injury for almost a third of the season.
Almost a repeat of last year’s Great Eight first round (in which the Pirates defeated the Bobcats 41-31), the Pagosa girls will be challenging a team that is much better than their record, having won their last 14 games, including a Feb. 25 54-42 win over the Reds in the Patriot league tournament.
“I think it’s going to be another tough game,” Lewis said, referring to the Pirates’ hard-fought win last year. “They’ve got two really good guards. They’re a really good basketball team.”
Depending on the outcome of Thursday’s game, the Pirates will either face the Reds or the second ranked Rifle Bears (24-0). Despite an impressive record, the Bears did not face much competition throughout the season; their 67-55 victory over the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers on Dec. 18 hardly matches the 52-20 trouncing MCHS suffered at the hands of the Pirates on Dec. 11.
If the Pirates win, they will play Friday at 8:30 p.m. in the Final Four, while a loss would mean 1:15 p.m. game on Friday in the consolation round. The consolation final (for fifth place) will be played at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday, while the third place playoff game begins at 3:30 p.m. The state championship game begins at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“I hope we can continue to play really good defense,” Lewis said. “If we can establish Mary and get her going a bit, and give some of our girls a chance to get out there and make some shots, we should do well.”
The Pirates could face eighth-ranked Pinnacle Timberwolves from Denver (19-6), the 12th-ranked Bishop Machebeuf Buffaloes (18-6) or the 20th-ranked Jefferson Academy Jaguars (17-7) from Broomfield — but only if the Pirates lose on Thursday. The Timberwolves face the top-ranked (and 3A state champions the past three years) Holy Family Tigers (23-1) in the first round, most likely facing the winner of Friday’s game between the Buffaloes and Jaguars.
However, the Tigers have been odds on favorites to win a fourth-straight championship (and ranked number one all season long) and it seems doubtful that the Timberwolves, Buffaloes or Jaguars will survive a game against Holy Family. With returning seniors Sarah Talamantes (last year’s 3A Player of the Year), Taylor Helbig, Carolina Guiterrez, Lindsey Chavez and Sierra Williamson, along with juniors Kassie Johannsen and Abby Metzger — all veterans of previous championship teams and all with playing time earned in last year’s final game — it is a seasoned and talented team with a very deep bench. Add to that the coaching skills of Ron Rossi and the Tigers look prepared to pounce on a fourth straight state crown.
In fact, it looks as though the Tigers will scrimmage their way to Saturday night’s final — playing the eighth-ranked team on Thursday and then (if they win), playing the winner of the match between teams ranked 12th and 20th — while the second, third, sixth and seventh-ranked teams will scramble in hard-fought games for a spot in Saturday night’s final.
Despite the lopsided and puzzling bracket set, Pirate fans, of course, are hoping Pagosa will face the Tigers on Saturday night — or better yet, that the Tigers manage to get themselves eliminated in one of the earlier rounds.
“No matter how this weekend works out, I just have to say that I’m really proud of these girls,” Lewis said regarding a Pirate team that is one of only two teams in this year’s tournament with a perfect record.
Pirate fans can purchase a pass for all playoff sessions online at www.chssa.ticketleap.com — tickets that are cheaper than paying for individual sessions. The passes allow patrons to skip the lines onsite and directly enter the facility for all sessions.