Title slips from Longhorns’ grasp

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado
Bishop Machebeuf defender Erin Doherty ties up Basalt's Katheryne Fitzpatrick during the Colorado 3A basketball final Saturday in Fort Collins. (Rich Abrahamson/The Fort Collins Coloradoan/AP)

FORT COLLINS – The Basalt girls basketball team picked an unfortunate time to have an off night.The No. 1 Longhorns scored just two points in the second quarter and missed 44 of their 58 shot attempts in Saturday’s 3A state championship against No. 7 Bishop Machebeuf. They could do little to cut into a 12-point half-time deficit, and the best season in school history came up one game short as Basalt fell, 55-46.”We didn’t play the game that got us here,” Longhorns coach Carolyn Compton said. “They didn’t take us out of our game as much as we decided not to play our game. I don’t know why.”The Longhorns (22-5), as they had for the prior two days at Moby Arena, started strong. They controlled the opening tip then opened up a 9-3 lead after three minutes. Emily Peetz shook free for a 3-pointer on the game’s first possession. Junior Katheryne Fitzpatrick buried a three on the next offensive possession and was fouled; she sunk the free throw. After a Buffaloes turnover, senior Cassie Meyer shook free underneath for the easy two. Machebeuf guard Cheri Palmer had an answer. The senior, who sports an Air Jordan tattoo on her right arm, sparked a 9-0 Buffaloes run in the next two minutes when she drove into the lane and finished off the glass. Her two in the lane moments later gave Machebeuf (17-10) its first lead of the game – a lead it never relinquished.Despite a poor shooting performance, Basalt trailed by just two after one quarter. A Fitzpatrick turnover to open the second, however, proved to be an unfavorable start to the Longhorns’ worst offensive quarter of the tournament. They went nearly six minutes without a field goal before Michelle Miller buried an open jumper from the corner.

Basalt, which scored no fewer than 13 in its other eight quarters at state, watched a two-point deficit grow to 12 at the break. Machebeuf’s Palmer, who turned the ball over just once in the first 16 minutes and didn’t seemed phased by the Longhorns’ defensive pressure, led all scorers in the first half with eight points.”It wasn’t our night,” Meyer said. “The stars weren’t aligned.”Junior Dayne Toney ended Basalt’s scoreless drought two minutes into the third when she hit a long jumper from the corner. Palmer answered right back with a steal and lay-up in transition, prompting a Longhorns time-out with 5:24 to play.Toney cut the Buffaloes’ lead to 10 when she drew a foul at 2:37 and made both free throws. Peetz stepped in front of a pass on the ensuing Machebeuf possession, dribbled up-court and fed a streaking Fitzpatrick for the lay-up and the continuation; Fitzpatrick’s free throw cut the lead to seven. Meyer drew a foul 30 seconds later and cut the lead to five with two free throws. But the Buffaloes, led by their sure-handed point guard, responded.

Following a Machebeuf lay-up and two free throws from Melissa Powell with 19 seconds remaining, Basalt senior Katy Mulcahy decided to drive to the hoop instead of hold up for the quarter’s last shot. Her shot clanked off the rim, Palmer took the ball and went coast-to-coast for the easy two. The bucket stretched the Buffaloes’ advantage back to 11 after three quarters.”She played smart basketball,” Machebeuf head coach Ellie Kempfe said. “She controlled the tempo and other people stepped up when the defense collapsed on her.”Something changed once we left the Metro [conference]. We had one goal in mind and never looked back.”Palmer, who finished with 17 points, stretched the lead to 14 on a sharp pass to open the fourth quarter. She penetrated, and passed to Kelly Mapes who absorbed a bump and tossed the ball toward the basket; the ball hung on the rim for what seemed like five seconds, then fell in. Palmer sank the free throw to make it 45-31. Peetz buried a three in the corner, then Mulcahy grabbed an offensive board and finished, cutting the lead to seven with four minutes to play. The Longhorns, who averaged more than 60 points in wins against Denver Christian and Faith Christian, didn’t have enough time to knock off another Metro foe.

“We all just had an off night,” Mulcahy said. “There was no one to carry us.”On the opposing side, the 5-foot-4 Palmer spearheaded Machebeuf’s improbable run to the state title – the school’s first since 2003. She led all scorers with 17 on Saturday and scored 68 in three games at Moby Arena. And before the Buffaloes hoisted their championship trophy, they hoisted Palmer on their shoulders at midcourt. Longhorns players struggled to hold back tears as they walked back to the locker room. Despite their obvious disappointment, neither players or coaches overlooked the weight of their accomplishments this season.”If we all could’ve played as one, things would’ve been different,” Mulcahy said. “But second place is still awesome.””I’m incredibly proud of these girls,” Compton said. “They are the best basketball team in school history.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is