Aspen Times Staff Writer
“It was a good overall season. It’s really sad that we had to end it how we did,” said junior point guard Autumn Caughern.
And that, honestly, is the best way to sum up the Basalt High School girls basketball team’s 2002-03 season.
The Lady Longhorns returned from the Class 3A state hoops tournament in Colorado Springs last weekend with a fourth-place finish – and heavy hearts. Though the current team is now tied as the best in school history (a BHS team claimed the tourney’s fourth-place title in the early 1980s), its members aren’t satisfied.
The Longhorns were going after a championship title, and leaving the state tournament with anything less was a disappointment for the driven team.
Still, the BHS girls can take pride in their weekend accomplishments. For starters, the Longhorns threw a scare into the tournament’s top team with a rough-and-tumble, down-to-the-wire semifinals contest. And they improved on last year’s finish, when they claimed the state tourney’s fifth-place “consolation” prize.
A look at Basalt’s tough tournament weekend is enough to make Longhorn fans appreciate the team’s tournament trials.
An optimistic opening
The No. 5-seeded Longhorns charged into the tournament quarterfinals – also known as the “Great 8” – last Thursday with their usual amount of confidence, even though the team faced a higher seed in No. 4 Estes Park.
“I think we’re kind of the underdogs, but we’re just ready to get out there and play basketball,” Caughern said as BHS took the court.
More than ready, it seemed. Though an early foul put Estes Park on the scoreboard first, Basalt junior Lauren Redfern gave the Longhorns the advantage with a quick rebound and jump shot. BHS then followed with a scoring glut, helped by senior Mariah Mulcahy and two quick three-pointers.
Basalt led 17-10 at the close of the first quarter, but Estes Park was determined to close the gap. The Wildcats overcame both shooting and defensive problems in the second quarter, tying the score 26-all in the final minute of the half. Basalt wrestled a 28-26 lead at the buzzer behind a layup by Mulcahy.
Rejuvenated at the start of the second half, the Longhorns shot aggressively as they returned to the court. Junior Rochelle Moebius came off the bench for a quick basket and, sent to the free-throw line by an Estes Park foul, two additional points. Caughern closed the third quarter with a field goal and two follow-up shots, boosting the Longhorns to a 46-33 lead.
Estes Park fumbled in the fourth quarter as they rushed to make up the score. The Wildcats sent the Longhorns to the free-throw line eight times in the final minutes of Thursday’s game, cushioning the Basalt lead.
Basalt finished the game with a 64-49 win – and a berth in the tournament’s semifinals on Friday.
Mulcahy led scoring that day with 25 points, followed by Caughern with 16, Redfern with 13, Moebius with six and senior March Thompson with two.
“I think that it was an awesome team effort,” a breathless Redfern said after the game. “Our team has come a long way this season, and everything we earned, we worked hard for.”
“Everyone really stepped up that game,” Caughern agreed. “There were times that the other team came back, but we all pulled together and came out on top.”
BHS coach Debbie Alcorta was a bit more reserved as she summed up Thursday’s game.
“I think the first-game jitters are over, and they fought hard. We’ll see where it takes us,” Alcorta said.
And an emotional end
They conquered the “first-game jitters.” Unfortunately, the Longhorns’ second game of the weekend rattled more than a few nerves too.
On Friday, the Longhorns faced off with No. 1-seed Bishop Machebeuf in the tournament semifinals. And though Machebeuf quickly proved that they deserved that top seed, Basalt also showed its determination to remain a tournament favorite.
Friday’s game began with Basalt’s bid to prove their dominance: an easy three-point shot from Caughern in the first 10 seconds. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much room for further scoring on either end of the court during the first half, as Basalt and Machebeuf seemed to match each other block for block, steal for steal. Machebeuf eased to a 9-8 lead at the close of the first quarter and extended the advantage 20-18 as the first half wrapped up.
Machebeuf went on a scoring tear in the third quarter, racking up a quick nine points before Mulcahy sank another three-point shot to end the run. Caughern and Redfern attempted to make up the difference with a few late baskets, holding Machebeuf’s advantage to 35-33.
The final period opened with missed scoring opportunities for both teams, but baskets by Caughern and Redfern soon earned the Longhorns their first lead of the day, 40-37. A quick three-pointer and a free throw helped Machebeuf to a lead yet again, but Basalt had one last hope – a foul sent Mulcahy to the free-throw line with just four seconds left in the game.
Mulcahy was allotted just one shot by game officials and, with the score at 41-40, the chance to tie Machebeuf and send the game into overtime. But the pressure was too much to handle – Mulcahy missed her shot, and Machebeuf won a berth to the state championships.
(Machebeuf eventually won the Class 3A state title with a win over Roosevelt on Saturday.)
“At the end, we had several chances to come back, but we didn’t take full advantage of those options,” Caughern said. “We made a lot of little errors. It was just the little bitty things that cost us the game.”
The Longhorns advanced to the tournament’s third-place game on Saturday, but the fight had clearly gone out of the team.
“Nobody really recovered from Machebeuf. We were kind of out there, just finishing up the season,” Caughern said. “If we could have pulled off Machebeuf, we could have won it [the championship].”
Basalt suffered in the first half, especially from a number of passing errors – a handful of missed catches helped La Junta to a 15-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. Mulcahy stepped up to contribute nine points in the second quarter, whittling down La Junta’s lead to 29-25 at the close of the first half.
La Junta kept its lead for the rest of Saturday’s game. Though Basalt recovered from its previous cold shooting in the fourth quarter, La Junta answered each basket with one of its own. The Tigers ended the game with a 66-60 win and the tournament’s third-place trophy.
Basalt left the court with heavy hearts and their fourth-place title.
The Longhorns have the chance to rebound from their tournament disappointment. Though the team will lose top players like Mulcahy to graduation, underclassmen like Caughern, Redfern and Eaton will return to the Basalt lineup.
And if the current trend continues, Basalt will surely improve on this year’s tourney try during the 2003-04 season.
“We’ll come back next year and surprise everybody,” Caughern said.
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