Longhorns one win away from state title
FORT COLLINS – Basalt’s girls didn’t make it to the foul line once in the first half of Friday’s state basketball semifinal against fellow No. 1 Faith Christian.In the waning minutes of the game, however, it was the free throw line helping the Longhorns book their first trip to the state title game.For a second straight night the Longhorns had to sweat it out from the line in the final minute. And for a second straight night, they delivered. Senior Katy Mulcahy and junior Kat Fitzpatrick combined to shoot 5-of-6 from the stripe in the final minute and a half to help No. 1 Basalt extend its lead. Fitzpatrick then broke free from the Eagles defense with 20 seconds to play, took a pass from Emily Peetz, and put the exclamation point on a thrilling 62-56 win.And now, the Longhorns (22-4) are headed to the “Ship,” as players and fans refer to the championship game. They’ll play an unlikely opponent in No. 7 Machebeuf, which upset No. 1 Cedaredge in Friday’s earlier semifinal.”It’s easy in games like this to want to lose your mind,” Basalt coach Carolyn Compton said. “But they were so focused, they wanted this so bad. They’ve grown up so much.”In Thursday’s quarterfinal, Basalt watched as Denver Christian whittled a 16-point lead down to one possession with a minute to play. Friday, the Longhorns led by as many as seven in the first half but could not pull away from the 3A Metro Conference champions. After junior Dayne Toney rebounded senior Cassie Meyer’s missed shot and finished, Fitzpatrick scored in transition – two of her 11 fourth-quarter points – to put the Longhorns up, 55-51, with three minutes to play.
Faith Christian’s Kayla Ends buried a 3-pointer moments later, cutting the lead to one. Ends, who had 11 in the game, opened the fourth quarter with a three to give the Eagles a 43-42 lead.After both teams turned the ball over in succession – they combined for 35 turnovers – Mulcahy was fouled with 2:04 to play and went to the line for a one-and-one; she missed the front end. After a defensive stop, Faith Christian fouled Fitzpatrick with 1:31 to play. Fitzpatrick, who was 3-of-4 from the line in the final minute Thursday, made one of two, and the Longhorns led, 56-54.”I like that pressure,” she said. “I walked up, and in my head I was thinking, ‘You can make these. Don’t be nervous.'”Meyer rebounded Fitzpatrick’s miss, but after calling timeout, the Longhorns botched a chance to extend the lead. On the ensuing possession, Faith Christian fed the ball to Cortney Bray in the post. The senior, who had 11 in the game, missed off the front of the rim, and Toney grabbed the rebound. She passed off to Mulcahy, who drew the foul with 57 seconds to play.Mulcahy, who scored 22 Thursday, picked a perfect time to score her first two points Friday.
“I said to myself, ‘I better put these in or else we’re screwed'” she said matter-of-factly. “I relaxed. I knew I could do it.” Both attempts barely touched the rim as they hit the net, giving Basalt a 58-54 advantage.Ends again got loose for an open look from three, but Toney controlled the miss. In 26 minutes, Toney had 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Meyer also posted a double-double, with 17 points and 13 boards. Toney passed out to Fitzpatrick, who was fouled with 36 seconds left; Fitzpatrick sank both free throws. Moments later, Peetz stepped in front of an Eagles pass and found Fitzpatrick for an easy layup with 19 seconds, all but sealing the game.”I really expected us to pull away,” said Fitzpatrick, who finished with 15 points. “But I knew if it was close, we’d be able to hold on.”The Longhorns, as has been their M.O. all season, were off and running from the opening tip and jumped out to an 8-3 lead two minutes into the game. Toney scored three consecutive buckets down the stretch, giving the Longhorns a 16-9 lead after eight.Faith Christian responded in the second. Brittany Long’s layup midway through the quarter tied the game at 18. But Meyer helped Basalt stretch its lead once again on the next possession; she scored nine consecutive points as the Longhorns opened up a 27-20 lead.
“Cassie had a physical game Thursday,” Compton said. “I told her to drink her Gatorade and water and go out there and do it again.”Despite shooting just 38 percent from the floor and turning the ball over eight times in the first half, the Eagles closed the second quarter on an 8-2 run and pulled to within one at 29-28 at the break.The teams jockeyed for position in the third, exchanging the lead six times. The physical play continued into the fourth, as neither team led by more than three points. But with their game and season on the line, the Longhorns came through. They’ll face Machebeuf (16-10), whose unlikely run through the bracket included wins over top seeds Colorado Springs Christian and Cedaredge.”Machebeuf played well, but I don’t think they’ve ever played a team like us,” Compton said. “If we play Longhorns basketball like we have been, I haven’t found a team that keep up with us for four quarters.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com