Budge leads Rampart girls hoops over Mountain Vista in 5A Sweet 16

(Dan Mohrmann)

(Dan Mohrmann)

COLORADO SPRINGS -- Cassidy Budge scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, and it turned out to be the nail in Mountain Vista’s coffin.

The 3-pointer gave the Rampart Rams a 37-36 lead and they wouldn’t look back. The Rams beat the Golden Eagles 61-52 Tuesday night to advance to Thursday’s Great 8 which will be played at the Denver Coliseum.

The Golden Eagles started the game aggressive, which helped them build an 8-2 lead early. The Rams were able to stay into the game thanks to sophomore Nicea Eliely’s seven first quarter points.

Both teams struggled in the second quarter, both racking up their fair share of unforced turnovers. The Golden Eagles went into halftime with a 20-19 lead but -- as has been the case all season -- the third quarter is when the Rams came alive. Budge’s eight points in the third quarter set the tone for the Rams going into the final period where they were able to finish off Mountain Vista.

“It’s kind of nuts, but all season long we’ve been a third quarter team,” Rams coach Megan Leatham said. “This team takes some time to kind of sort things out for the first few quarters. I know we had some jitters but it was just about us relaxing and playing Rampart basketball in the third quarter.”

But it wasn’t just Rampart that found their offensive flow at the beginning of the second half. Golden Eagles sophomore guard Chelsea Pearson found her touch from behind the arc, hitting three shots from 3-point range in the period.

The Rams have made their name in the third quarter this season, but the Golden Eagles actually increased their lead to 36-34 going into the final eight minutes of the game.

“(Pearson) was a little quiet there in the first half, but she hit some shots and she got hot and kept us in it,” Golden Eagles coach Mike Willahan said. “But when you only go six or seven deep, people start getting tired and things start opening up.”

For the Rams, things indeed did open up. After taking the lead with Budge’s 3-pointer, the Rams were able to score baskets in transition and start drawing fouls which got them to the free throw line.

In the fourth quarter alone, the Rams got to the charity stripe 19 times, sinking 16 of those shots. Their ability to sink their free throws helped turn a two-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter into a 12-point lead near the end of the game.

“(Getting to the free throw line) was huge,” said Budge, who led all scorers with 30 points. “They had a great three-point shooter and we knew we had to do whatever we could do to beat them and this game it was making shots at the free throw line.”

The Rams are now set to play in Thursday’s round of eight at the Coliseum. They’ll face Grandview, which advanced to the Great 8 after a hard fought win over Castle View.

Should the Rams get by the Grandview they’ll find themselves in the state Final Four, which will be played at the Coors Events Center in Boulder on Mar. 13. Tuesday’s game gave Leatham confidence that her team has what it takes to make it to Boulder and contend for a state championship. She knew that once her players were able to feel out their opponents they would find a way to advance, a trend she hopes will continue over the next week and a half.

“Once we got through the first quarter and realized we were just as good, if not better than this team, that we settled down a bit and were able to play our basketball,” she said. “Once we were ahead I knew this team wouldn’t fall back off.”