Lamar overcomes slow start to claim 3A girls basketball title

Lamar girls state basketball

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

DENVER — This game wasn’t pretty, but it had a beautiful outcome for Lamar High School’s girls basketball team.

The Savages muscled past Colorado Springs Christian 24-18 Saturday afternoon to win the Class 3A state championship at Hamilton Gym on the University of Denver campus.

“This feels surreal,” Lamar coach Erik Melgoza said. “I’m just happy for our kids, especially our seniors.”

Lamar (25-2 overall) won its fifth state girls basketball title and first since 1998. The first four championships were back-to-back in 1995-98. CSCS (24-3), which was trying to capture its first girls state basketball title since 2002, ended its season with a 1-2 record against Lamar as both teams compete in the Tri-Peaks League.

“We have a great team and everybody brings something to the table,” said Lamar senior guard Brenna Vallejos, who had five points. “We’re really close and have a great bond with each other and I think we will celebrate this for the rest of our lives.”

Lamar freshman, Cali Clark, who had a game-high nine points, concurred with Vallejos.

“This feels great, and it’s just wonderful to have this happen,” said Clark, a 6-foot-2 post player.

The fourth quarter began with Lamar holding a 19-13 advantage and the Savages never loosened their grip.

Shelby Henderson’s jumper in left corner with 4:57 remaining stretched the Lamar lead to 22-13 and the Lions couldn’t answer. Madison Mackie’s inside bucket got CSCS within 22-15.

With 55.6 seconds left, CSCS was still putting up a fight, trailing 24-17, but could get no closer than 24-18 following a free throw by Megan Engesser with 13.6 ticks on the clock.

Engesser and Mackie each finished with seven points to pace the Lions.

“Our league (the Tri-Peaks League) is known for good defense,” Melgoza said. “We know each other. We know every play they are going to do and they know every play we are going to do. We chose to play their slow down game and it worked for us today.”

The first quarter was a huge struggle for both teams offensively as the game was tied 2-2 after eight minutes. Lamar was 1-for-12 shooting in the first quarter and CSCS was 1-for-9.

The frigid offensive display continued in quarter two as the game was knotted at 6-all at intermission.

Lamar was 3-for-25 (12 percent) from the field, and the Lions were 2-for-19 (11 percent). Engesser and Mackie added one free each for CSCS.

“At halftime, I told the kids, it’s not a football game, we must shoot the ball,” Melgoza said. “We were tight as drum, but I told them whatever happens is going to happen, so just shoot the ball and give it everything we have.”

When Melgoza spoke – his team listened.

The action picked up dramatically in the third quarter for the Savages, thanks to Brecken Payne and Vallejos. The duo combined for nine points – the final three coming on a trey from Vallejos to give Lamar a 15-10 edge with 3:04 left in the third.

A bucket by Clark at the 2:24 mark gave the Savages a 17-10 lead. Payne added a layup to make it 19-10 with 1:15 remaining. The Lions finally answered with Engesser’s 3-pointer with 50 seconds on the clock to cut the deficit to 19-13.

“It such a good feeling to know that all of our hard work has finally paid off,” said Payne, a sophomore, who had six points, all in the key third quarter. “We gave it 100 percent and now we are state champions. We are the team, but we couldn’t have done it without our community. The community made this happen for us and I’m thankful for that.”