PUEBLO — In the two regular season meetings between Pueblo South and Pueblo County, the score was close at halftime.
Then the Colts found a way to pull away with the game. The playoff meeting between the two teams followed a similar storyline. South led by five going into the half. And Gabi Lucero provided the spark that let her team pull away.
The Colts came away with a 66-56 win on Friday at the Southwest Motors Events Center. They move on to the Sweet 16 of the Class 4A girls state basketball tournament.
"Just from what we had learned from them, we knew exactly what we were doing," Lucero said. "We had a game plan."
Lucero had picked up her third foul in the second quarter, forcing coach Shannon Lane to pull her off the floor. When Lucero re-entered the game in the fourth quarter, she dominated. She scored 12 of her game-high 19 points in the quarter and put the Colts (15-9 overall) ahead 51-38 going into the fourth.
"The joke on is our team is that we have to get her mad to play," Lane said. "That's just how she is."
South got off to a bit of a slow start to the game. A press defense forced several County turnovers, but Lane didn't think her team did a good enough job converting those into points.
That allowed the Hornets (16-9) to keep the game close thanks to baskets from Erin Mauro and points in the paint from Hailee Stamps.
But it was the press defense that really hit County hard in the early stages of the game.
"It set the tone early," County coach Mark Villegas said. "We had to go to our bench earlier than expected, but I thought our kids adjusted well.
Drea Nelson started the second quarter off with three-straight baskets to give the Colts some breathing room and they were able to hold off a County rally despite Lucero finding her way into foul trouble.
Once the whistle to start the second half blew, it was apparent that the Colts - and Lucero specifically - had woken up.
They looked more like the team that made its way to the 4A state championship game last year.
"They're demise was a little early," Villegas said. "They're a good team and they have four kids who are as good as anybody in the state."
They'll have to prove that for as many games as they might have remaining. The Colts will travel north on Tuesday to play Valor Christian, a team they are very familiar with.
South lost to Valor 60-42 earlier in the year, but the Eagles will be without freshman point guard Kendall Wetta, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier in the year.
"(Hat's off) to Jess (Caldwell) for having to deal with her point guard going out. Valor's not the team that they were before," Lane said. "I think they've lost three of their last couple of games without Kendall."
Judging from the second half, South could easily be a team peaking at the right time. Tuesday will be an indication if this team is ready to get back to the Denver Coliseum in two weeks.