PUEBLO — Bridesmaid talk is finally in the rear-view mirror for the Yuma girls basketball team.
Losers of three state championships in a row, the Indians reversed their fortunes with a 55-46 victory over Paonia in the Class 2A state title game Saturday night at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” Yuma coach Mike Neill said. “They worked hard in all of these state championship games and they finally got one. It couldn’t be a better feeling. They kept working and they kept plugging and we finally got one. That was a lot of fun.”
Yuma capped its memorable season with a 26-1 record. This is the Indians second girls state basketball title as they also won one in 1997.
The latest victory also immediately erased the memory of losing three state championship games in a row to Akron (2013), Lutheran (2014) and Akron again last year. Paonia ended the season with a 24-3 record. The Eagles won their lone state girls basketball crown in 2010 when they beat Akron. The Eagles also played for a state crown in 2009, losing to Wray.
Yuma senior Logan Hixon led the way for the Indians scoring a game-high 27 points.
“This is awesome,” Hixon said. “We came to state and we refused to lose. We worked as hard as we could and we made this state championship possible.”
Yuma, which was the top-seed in the tourney, had the upper hand, leading 24-17 at half. Hixon and Peighton Roth paced the Indians with eight and seven points. Paonia’s Ashley Van Vleet kept things close for the Eagles with 10 points.
Early in the fourth quarter, Yuma tried to put the game out of reach as Hixon made two consecutive buckets, the latter gave the Indians a 38-26 lead with 6:46 remaining.
Paonia was staggered, but didn’t surrender. The Eagles kept clawing away and when Taylor Carsten made a driving layup with 1:45 on the clock, Paonia was only down 45-40.
The Eagles could get no closer before the final buzzer, namely because Hixon made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 1:19. Yuma converted 18-of-26 free throws for the game.
“We worked on free throws earlier (Saturday) because we knew we were going to need to make our free throws against Paonia,” Hixon said. “I stepped to the line and knew I could do it and I knew my teammates could do it. This is an amazing way to go out. There is not a better way. When we wake up (Sunday) morning we are not going to see the second-place trophy. We are going to see the championship trophy.”
The loss left Paonia coach Scott Rienks shaking his head.
“We didn’t hit our shots, but on the record I don’t feel like the kids didn’t decide the game,” Rienks said.
Van Vleet was the only player in double-figures for Paonia with 20 points.