DENVER -- Finally, a spark. Lofted off the fingertips of senior Madison Rickey, a 3-point shot tied the game with three seconds left in the third quarter and ignited Lutheran's girls basketball team.
Then Kristen Vigil fanned the flames.
Vigil, a sophomore, hit back-to-back 3-pointers to open the fourth quarter as Lutheran took a 45-39 lead against Bishop Machebeuf it wouldn't surrender. The Lions went on to win 60-53 despite trailing by as much as 12 points in the third quarter.
"Madison Rickey hit a 3 and that got me pretty excited," Vigil said afterwards. "I just wanted to win that game."
Rickey's shot from the right corner, which tied things at 39 late in the third quarter, "was huge," Lutheran coach Mark Duitsman said.
"That was a momentum-changer," Lutheran junior Kaleigh Paplow said. "We were struggling, obviously. Once we hit that, it was like, 'Let's go.'"
The shot was smack-dab in the middle of an 17-2 run spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth quarter that turned the game from a 37-28 deficit for Lutheran into a 45-39 lead.
"What we've been searching for is rhythm. That's been the word all week." Duitsman said. "We've got to identify our rhythm shots, not just shooting because we're open: Is there a flow to what we're doing? They fed off that momentum and that rhythm and knocked (shots) down. That was big."
But Lutheran didn't have much rhythm early. The Lions, ranked No. 2 in CHSAANow.com's latest 2A poll, couldn't quite find themselves against Machebeuf, a 3A league opponent. The Buffaloes were in control for most of the game, and held leads of 16-7 after the first quarter and 27-21 at the half.
So Duitsman dialed up the defense pressure, using a type of full-court press his team hadn't even practiced this season. It resulted in 11 second-half turnovers from Machebeuf and a slew of transition points for Lutheran.
"Our offense feeds off our defense," said Paplow, who finished with a team-high 15 points.
"Defense is one of our keys," added Vigil, who had 10 points. "It just gets our team pumped up. I think we play better, more energetic."
Lutheran improved to 10-1, including 4-1 in the tough Metropolitan League which consists of nine 3A teams -- and the 2A Lions. Holy Family (No. 1), Peak to Peak (No. 5) and Lutheran are all ranked.
"It's definitely tough. I mean, you have the top 3A teams," Vigil said. "It's really cool, though, for a 2A team to come out here and play the top competition. We play Holy Family, they're ranked No. 1, you've got Machebeuf, Kent Denver – you've got a lot of really good teams in this league. ... I think that'll help us in the end."
Said Duitsman: "I just love it. There's some really good teams in 2A, but we are certainly getting prepared by going through this."
Machebeuf dropped to 7-5, 2-2 in the Metro League. The Buffs were led by Jonni Smith's 17 points. Heidi Grandon added 12, including three 3-pointers in the first half.