LOVELAND — Every team has state championship aspirations. After a 7-12 record a season ago, the Flagler girls basketball players didn’t know if a title was realistic though.
“At the start of this season, I told them I thought they could be in the state tournament and maybe even win it,” Panther coach Gary Elrick said. “Every one of them looked at me like I’m crazy.”
After upsetting No. 1 seed Norwood (21-2), the defending Class 1A champions, on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Alexis Schults on Thursday morning at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, its hard not to believe. The win sent the No. 8 seeded Flagler (18-6) into the Final 4.
“Adrenaline is going through me,” Schults said.
The Mavericks scored the game’s first basket, but the Panthers clawed to a 10-2 lead early. They pumped the margin up to double digits soon after and led 27-16 at halftime, despite 14 points by senior wing Jordan Williams, the lone 1A participant in The Show, the annual Colorado hoops all-star event.
Flagler smothered her teammates, though, holding them to 1-of-7 from the field. Schults, all of 5-foot-2, was an aggressive, dynamic force using her quickness and shot-making to score 13 points in the first two quarters.
More than anything, the Panthers, making their first state tournament appearance since 2007, embraced the bright lights while Norwood seemed rattled with the weight of back-to-back titles on the line.
The Mavericks had more turnovers (20) than points (16) at the break. But, Norwood made adjustments and made a run in closing the deficit to 39-33 headed into the fourth.
In a wild last two minutes of regulation, the Mavericks found a way to tie it up and force overtime at 48 all after Macie Magallon made a pair at the line with 7.4 seconds left. Flagler didn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.
In extra time, Williams scored all eight of Norwood’s points and the title favorites led 56-54, but she fouled out with 19 seconds to go. Elizabeth Grimes calmly knocked down both free throws to force another tie. Norwood was called for traveling the next possession, Flagler got the ball back, and Schults sent the Panthers into the Final 4.
“She’s so explosive that she can change a game around in 20 seconds,” Elrick said. “Good players want the ball at the end and she took a nice shot.”
Schults led the Panthers with 24 points. Jade Hasz went 16-of-18 at the line and scored 18 points. Flagler was money on freebies, going 25-of-32.
The Panthers move on to the state semifinals Friday.
Williams led all scorers with 34 points in the loss for Norwood. The Mavericks will have to settle for the consolation bracket the rest of the way.
(3) Sangre de Cristo 52 (6) Plateau Valley 38
The Thunderbirds improved to 23-1 with an easy win over the Cowgirls as they led 12-6 after one and 22-14 at the break. Abbey Stagner led Sangre de Cristo with 16 points. Allie Beiriger chipped in 10.
Sangre de Cristo will be making their first Final 4 appearance since 2010 when they face Kit Carson at 7 p.m. on Friday.
(4) Idalia 41 (5) Eads 31
Idalia improved to 19-2 after a comfortable win over the Eagles (17-7). Susana Herrera led all scorers with 15 points as the Wolves held every Eads player to single digits.
Idalia also reached the Final 4 last year, placing fourth after dropping the third place game to Dove Creek.
(2) Kit Carson 50 (7) Prairie 35
In a game Prairie never led, the Wildcats’ sister tandem of senior Aurelia (13 points) and freshman Micayla Isenbart (24) applied constant pressure on the Mustangs with Aurelia’s work in the post and Micayla’s versatility as a 6-foot-1 guard.
Kit Carson improved to 23-0 with the victory. They had reached three of the last four state tournaments, but this is the first time in the stretch they’ve made the Final 4.