GOLDEN – This wasn’t just about capping off an undefeated season with the program’s first-ever state championship.
For the Pagosa Springs girls basketball team, Saturday evening’s crowning moment was – in the words of one individual – vindication.
One year after falling in the Class 3A state championship game, the Pirates returned to Lockridge Arena and finished off what they started last winter. Pagosa Springs broke open a close game in the final two minutes of play on its way to a 39-36 victory over Sterling to claim the 3A crown.
“It feels absolutely amazing. I’ve been to the state tournament every year since I can remember with my Dad,” Pirates senior Shannel Wilson said. “Seeing those other teams go win the state tournament and have these great games, it’s an indescribable feeling. Winning the state tournament, a perfect season with people doubting us, it just felt great.”
Pagosa Springs (26-0) rebounded nicely from its offensive struggles through the first three quarters. The Pirates had only 19 points headed into the fourth, but poured in 20 points in the final quarter alone.
Taylor Lee Hammer led the way with 15 points, all of which came in the second half. She hit two big 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter and added two key layups in the final two minutes of play.
“We freed her up a little bit and we got her open,” Pagosa Springs coach Wes Lewis said. “She’s a great shooter, and shot the ball with confidence. Big players make big-time plays in big games.”
A first half that was sloppy at times ended with a 10-10 tie and a combined 17 turnovers. Sterling’s Jenna Knudson and Kylie Chavez opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run, but back-to-back 3-pointers from Madison Lewis and Hammer tied it back up.
Even after Hammer’s consecutive treys to open the fourth, the Tigers (26-1) surged back to take a 28-27 lead with 2:32 remaining on a Chavez bucket. But Wilson knocked down a 3-pointer for Pagosa Springs and Hammer picked off a pass and went the length of the court for a layup to make it 32-28.
“We’ve always believed that if we want to be a good team we have to dig down and dig through all those holes we’re put in,” Wilson said. “That’s exactly what we did. We’ve been preparing for this game all season. We dug down, came out of it and got on a roll there.”
Pagosa Springs’ boys team captured the 3A state championship in 2013, a feat their counterparts on the girls side had been trying hard to match.
“Last year, it was absolutely horrible. We all broke down crying because we thought we had it,” Hammer said. “This year it’s just bubbling over with joy.”
Lewis said the championship wasn’t just about the girls celebrating in the locker room Saturday night.
“It’s hard to put into words right now. We’ve worked so hard for this, this is our eighth year with the program on the girls side,” Lewis said. “I want to give a lot of
credit to the girls who came before these that kind of helped build our tradition and our program. We have a ton of them out there tonight that came up here to support us.”
Payton Shahan and Lewis scored eight points each for the Pirates. Knudson led Sterling with 16 points and Chavez added eight.
The Tigers graduate four seniors off a team that went to the semifinals a year ago before making the title game this season. Two of them started Saturday – Kenzie Chrisman and Maggie Adney.