LOVELAND – David Reed and Bob Rahm met at mid-court for a handshake and an exchange of some friendly words that were likely tough to hear.
To say the two are familiar with one another would be an understatement. The Wray (Reed) and Yuma (Rahm) girls basketball coaches were playing each other for the fifth time this season on Friday night at the Budweiser Events Center, in a burning rivalry that had the added gasoline of the Class 2A state semifinals on the line.
It was Wray that improved its record within the rivalry this season, now 3-2, in a 46-44 thriller to knock off the defending champion Indians. Reed’s team and their fans were busy letting our ear-piercing screams of celebration when he was congratulated by Rahm.
“You have no idea how good this feels. Yuma-Wray is always something else. We’re close location-wise and performance-wise,” Reed said. “It’s an honor to play them. They’re a solid team with a great coach.”
All throughout the first half, it looked like Yuma (23-4) would be returning for a championship rematch from a year ago, as Paonia had already punched its ticket there earlier in the evening.
The Indians began dominant on defense, limiting the Eagles to just four points in the opening quarter. On the other end of the court, Yuma’s Cody Robinson couldn’t be slowed down as she finished leading all scorers and half of her team’s points, 23.
But Wray (19-6) returned with a strong second-half run that finally provided its first lead of the game midway through the third quarter.
“It was our aggression that started that change for us,” Reed said. “Once we started taking some of it out, we started knocking down shots and getting into the flow.”
The two teams went on to exchange leads four more times in the fourth quarter. And when Wray started to pull farther away, Yuma began fouling – which sent the Eagles to the line for a total of 16 free throws in the final frame.
Coming through under the circumstances was Wray’s Peyton Pecar, who sunk eight of her 11 free throws to finish with 12 points.
“She struggled early, but we trust her,” Reed said. “She started to come through really well at the end and really helped secure that one for us.”
Paige Beckman finished as Wray’s leading scorer with 16 points. Yuma’s Chasey Blach added to Robinson’s high-scoring performance with 12 points of her own.
Wray and Paonia will play in the championship game at 7 p.m. Saturday. Yuma will face Del Norte in the third-place game at noon.
(2) Paonia 49, (3) Del Norte 48
The Eagles are back in a familiar spot.
For the second season in a row, Paonia (24-0) will be playing for a state championship title. But it took a nerve-wracking semifinal win before they could get there. The Eagles and Tigers never got too far away from one another, and the 1-point difference in the final score illustrates exactly how things played out coming down the final stretch.
After surrendering its first lead near the end of the third quarter, Paonia began to climb back thanks to the strong second-half performance from Sophia Anderson. Seventeen of her game-high 22 points were poured in after halftime, including nine in the final quarter.
“Last year we finished second in the state tournament. Since then, it’s been about ‘This is our year’, and we’re going for it,” Anderson said. “It’s been our drive all season.”
Although still undefeated and only one win away from finishing off a perfect season, Anderson said that her team’s push in the state tournament means much more. The possibility of revenge against the Yuma team that defeated them in the title game a year prior was what they had in mind, but things didn’t pan out that way.
“It’s the rematch we want,” Anderson said before the Yuma-Wray semifinal game later in the evening. “But if (Wray) pulls through, we’ll be ready for them, too.”
Emily Peiper added to the Eagles’ offensive effort with 13 points. Kendra Parra led Del Norte (16-9) in scoring with 14 points, while Bailey Jones and Kathleen Martinez also reached double figures with 13 and 12, respectively.
No matter the result of Saturday’s title game, it will be the final one for Anderson and the three other Paonia seniors.
“It’s going to be tough, that last game,” she said. “But if we give it all we’ve got when we walk off the floor, that’s all we can ask for.”