COLORADO SPRINGS — Once the buzzer sounded, there was elation throughout the gym at St. Mary's High School.
The fans, parents and players that all don the green and white of the Pirates had just upset the defending Class 3A state champion — and the CHSAANow.com No. 1-ranked — Colorado Springs Christian Lions 54-51.
In the bowels of the visiting locker room, CSCS coach Mark Engesser was in disbelief. But deep down, he knew the Lions (7-4 overall, 4-1 3A Tri-Peaks) had it coming.
"I'm frustrated with everything. Our offense, our defense," Engesser said. "It's the same thing that happened last year. Things slide. Things slide when you play three out of state teams with Division I players all over the roster and we compete well and we think we're all that. And then we don't practice hard for over a month."
On the side of the coin, the Pirates (7-5, 5-2) earned a win that could be the turning point in a very difficult season. They dropped league games to James Irwin and Trinidad that had them knocked down.
But Friday night, they showed they were anything but out. Ryan Englert scored a team-high 18 points and Ben Padrnos added 17 to lead the Pirates scoring effort. But it was the lockdown defense and ball distribution of Jimmy Velten that played a key a role in St. Mary's knocking off their league rival for the second year in a row.
"We just stayed together, we knew we were brothers out there," Velten said. "We knew we could do it. We haven't had the best year so far, we lost a few in league that we don't feel like we should've lost and we knew what we were capable of."
The Lions' one-two combination of Sam Howard and Justin Engesser did everything they could to keep their team in the game. Howard scored a game-high 19 points and Engesser helped out with 18. But the Pirates were able to shut them down in key moments.
Howard was facing double- and triple-teams early and was held to one field goal in the first quarter. With the Lions trailing 24-21 at halftime Engesser's only points of the third quarter came on two free throws.
"You have to have help," St. Mary's coach Mark Beranek said. "So we got help defensively out of our man and matchup zone in various ways and I think that helped a lot."
With the Pirates holding consistent two-score lead late in the fourth quarter, frustration finally boiled over for Coach Engesser and he was hit with a technical foul. Padrnos hit one of two free throws to make the score 52-47 with less than a minute left and the Lions couldn't overcome the deficit.
"They hadn't beat us in 10 or 12 years and now it's twice in a row," Engesser said. "They play really good and they play really hard and we don't. We stink."
Although it's still early in league play, it appeared that with the loss to James Irwin, the Tri-Peaks was shaping into a three-team race between the Jaguars, CSCS and Manitou Springs. But the Pirates emphatically put themselves back in the mix by slaying the defending state champs.
Looking up in the standings, St. Mary's knows that a showdown with the Mustangs is looming and, without overlooking everyone, are anxious to mix it up with their other longtime rival.
"I'm excited," Velten said. "Feb. 9 at Manitou. That's going to be a good one; boys and girls double-header."