LOVELAND — The Sangre de Cristo girls basketball program, around 30 years after a historic run of three state championship game appearances in a row, could have reached back-to-back state finals with a victory over Briggsdale in the Final 4 at the Budweiser Events Center.
Two-time champions (1984, 1985), the ThunderBirds (No. 2 seed) could have also stayed undefeated with a 25-0 record this season.
Instead, Briggsdale (23-3) made the clutch plays down the stretch and pulled away for a monumental 50-44 1A semifinals victory over the Thunderbirds. Briggsdale (No. 6) will be appearing in their second-ever girls basketball state championship game. They lost to Eads in the 1A finals in 2008.
In clipping the Thunderbirds’ wings in the second half, the Falcons were patient offensively, draining clock and forcing Sangre to make defensive mistakes.
Senior guard Darian Hale was a quarterback on the court, making sound decisions on choosing when to attack and when to distribute. More than anything, she put the ball in the hoop with 26 points. Another fourth-year guard, Leilani Carrasco, had 13 points for Briggsdale as well.
For a team that actually placed third in their district tournament, the Falcons have flown into their second state finals as a bit of a Cinderella story.
“I always believed in them,” Briggsdale coach Colin Nicklas said. “I knew we were better than third in the district and I thought we could hang with anybody in the state. We knew we were good enough. I’m so proud of these girls on how far they’ve come. We were on the ropes.”
Briggsdale, which also overcame a 25-18 halftime deficit, including a 3-of-21 shooting performance, built a 41-33 lead with 2:51 to go. Clutch shooting from the charity stripe preserved the lead. Also, only three Thunderbirds scored in the game as only Brooke Slane (24 points), Karleigh Cooley (16) and Jenna McKinley (4) got into the box score.
“I think it was mainly experience,” Hale said of sealing the win in style. “We’ve all played together at least one whole year. We know how to work well together.”
Briggsdale’s poise and backcourt leadership ultimately led to the lead late in the third, a lead they never gave up.
“We believed in ourselves from the very beginning. We wanted to play in the state championship.”
(4) Idalia 46 (8) South Baca 37
Idalia (20-2) stayed alive in their bid for back-to-back 1A state championships as senior guard Susana Herrera, after scoring 13 points in the quarterfinals, poured in 17 in the semifinals. The Wolves beat Sangre de Cristo 59-50 in the state finals last season in their first-ever title game.
Senior guard Shaelynn Wood, an offensive dynamo, tallied 19 points in the defeat for South Baca.