The bright lights and raucous crowds at the University of Northern Colorado's Bank of Colorado Arena felt familiar to the Fleming girls basketball team.
Fleming won the Class 1A volleyball state championship over Kit Carson at the Denver Coliseum, their sixth title in program history after reaching eight of the past ten championship matches. Junior forward Alli Keisel (20 points) and electric senior guard Kalyn Serrato (19) were key members of the volleyball team that handed Kit their first loss of the fall.
Boosted by their championship experience — Bailey Chintala, Jenna Lengfelder, Morgan Cockroft all play on both teams as well — Fleming (23-1) was poised in the final frame and outscored Antonito 24-10 to pull away after a close contest and reach the 1A girls Final 4 with a 68-57 win. Antonito was undefeated at 23-0 entering the weekend.
“I definitely think that carries over into the next season and we may not be well-tested in the state basketball tournament, but they have played in some big games and the stage didn’t seem to bother them one bit tonight,” said coach Randy Kirkwood, formerly in charge of the boys at Caliche.
With numerous lead changes and quick bursts filled with fastbreaks and 3-point makes, each team had the weapons needed to explode for stretches.
Antonito (No. 6 seed) and Fleming (No. 3) both executed inside and outside as the Trojans’ Erykah Tallman (17 points) was a presence down low and guards Tyanna Sanchez (11) and Brenay Ruybal (10) were effective from the perimeter.
The game was tied at 16 after one as Fleming held a slight three-point advantage, 32-29, at halftime. Antonito whipped the ball around the outside and heated up as an 11-0 Trojan run pushed Antonito to a 49-44 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Spurred by 5-foot-3 Serrato, a wonderful veteran playmaker with six points during a critical stretch midway through the fourth which included four-of-four from the free throw line, Fleming took a tight 56-53 lead with just over four minutes to go.
Antonito got within one with three minutes left, but could never retake the lead. A fifth foul on Tallman took their physical post out of the game with about five minutes remaining and Fleming’s transition offense opened up the late double-digit lead.
“We run a lot,” Serrato said. “We turn the game into a track meet.”
Kirkwood was pleased with the execution and effort of his team in a close victory over a well-coached and gifted Trojan team.
“Antonito is a very good team,” he said. “That was a really good girls basketball game. Our girls rebounded real well in the second half and we hit some big shots when we needed to.”
Fleming will take on Heritage Christian at 7 p.m. in the semifinals on Friday, a team they beat 67-55 in the District 4 tournament on February 25.
(1) Kit Carson 51, (8) Nucla 31
Kit Carson looked every bit the title contender their seed would indicate. The Wildcats stayed perfect this season at 23-0 with a defense that gave up 15 points through three quarters and allowed Kit to build a 36-point advantage in the fourth.
The Isenbart sister trio of Micayla (nine points), Reyna (14) and Olivia (six), a junior, freshman and sophomore, redeemed the Wildcats one year after a perfect regular season was slightly spoiled with an upset loss to South Baca in the Great 8. Tess Hornung chipped in 13 points for Kit.
Senior guard Taylor Sickels had the hot-hand for Nucla (14-10), scoring 18 of the team’s 31 points. The Mustangs will face Briggsdale at 8:45 a.m. in the consolation bracket Friday.
(4) South Baca 53, (5) Briggsdale 50 (OT)
The Patriots pushed Briggsdale aside thanks to a 22-point performance by Bree-ann Carwin, an overtime-forcing trifecta by senior Frankie Ormiston and a few clutch free throws in extra time.
1A’s top scorer (21.9 points per game) was the catalyst for South Baca, a team that has now reached the Final Four back-to-back years. The Patriots (20-3), a school that pulls from Campo, Vilas and Pritchett, could reach their first state final if they take out No. 1 Kit Carson on Friday at 4 p.m.
The area does have some hoops tradition as Campo High School, before the area schools collaborated into one, claimed two girls basketball state titles with the most recent coming in 1978.
The Patriots took a 17-11 lead into the second quarter and held a 21-17 margin at the break, but the Falcons found their wings taking a 39-34 lead into the last quarter. A balanced Briggsdale effort, 14 points apiece for Nikki Anderson and Jodel Erickson, to go with 12 by Skyla Miller, was enough to force overtime but not enough to prevail.
Briggsdale (18-6) was the state-runner up to Idalia in 2016.
(2) Heritage Christian 46, (7) Eads 37
Eads was poised looking to spring an upset and led 16-15 on the big stage after two quarters. But, a 14-6 third frame that went the way of Heritage Christian assured the Eagles a spot in the semifinals.
Joe Packard’s team is a serious threat for the 1A crown, but will have to avenge their only loss of the season to Fleming to reach the final.
Sarah McGinley (12 points), Jenn Stellingwerf (10), Elizabeth Lacey (nine) and Sarah Collins (nine) led the offensive charge for Heritage Christian.
Mariah Smith (15) and Miranda Mitchek (13) played well for Eads in a close loss. Eads (16-9) takes on Antonito in the consolation rounds at 11:45 a.m. on Friday.