DENVER — All season long, Evergreen’s girls basketball team used its size and aggressiveness to its advantage inside the paint.
The Cougars took that to the next level Saturday afternoon in the Class 4A state championship game. Evergreen dominated Pueblo South inside, crashing the boards and turning offensive rebounds into second-chance points. The Cougars withstood a late surge from the Colts to come away with a 46-38 victory at Denver Coliseum, giving Evergreen its second consecutive state title.
The Cougars (26-2) were making their third consecutive appearance in the championship game. No. 6 Evergreen topped the 12th-seeded Colts (18-10) for the second year in a row.
“This year was so much harder pressure-wise, having that target on your back,” Cougars coach Amy Bahl said. “For these girls to respond like they did, it means so much. They did what they needed to do.”
Evergreen out-rebounded Pueblo South 49-18, including a one-sided 25-3 edge on the offensive end. The Cougars finished with 22 second-chance points, compared to only three for the Colts.
“It was one of our goals to go in and not let them get second-chance opportunities,” said Cougars junior Claudia Dillon, who scored 13 points and finished with 16 rebounds. “We did a lot better with that than we have in any other game before this.”
Meriel Hahn added 12 points and 12 rebounds for Evergreen, and Kristina Schreiber and Baylee Galan-Browne scored nine points apiece. Hahn and Dillon each grabbed eight offensive rebounds.
“I really think Meriel is one of the best rebounders in the state. She always had it in her — it’s a matter of getting it out of her,” Bahl said. “We didn’t have to get it out of her tonight. She wanted to do it herself.
“Claudia, I think she got a little frustrated for a moment, figured it out and did a couple of ball-picks and finished at the basket.”
Drea Nelson scored a game-high 14 points for Pueblo South, which stayed close on the strength of seven 3-pointers. Gabi Lucero had six points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots for the Colts.
“I couldn’t ask for a better team who isn’t just there for me on the court, but off the court as well,” Lucero said. “No one believed in us at first, and I don’t even think we did. But once we started believing, we started getting on a run.
“Not every girl can say that they went to the state title game twice, so I’m just very grateful that I got this far.”
Evergreen outrebounded Pueblo South 25-7 in the first half, including a 14-0 edge on the offensive end. The Cougars turned those rebounds into 14 second-chance points. Dillon and Hahn combined for 15 points and 14 rebounds in the first half, with nine of those offensive boards.
The Cougars’ lead increased to 10 early in the third quarter before Pueblo South began to make its way back. The Colts pressured Evergreen into missed shots and turnovers, and trimmed the deficit to 34-30 with a little more than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Evergreen got into foul trouble, but the Colts couldn’t covert those opportunities at the free-throw line. The Colts were just 5-of-11 from the line in the fourth quarter, and the Cougars went on an 8-0 run to push the lead back to 12.
Six of those points came after offensive rebounds.
“We stuck around for a little bit, but they hit some shots,” Lucero said. “We have to give our props to Evergreen for playing a great game.”
Pueblo South graduates eight seniors off a team that made it to the title game in consecutive seasons.
Evergreen will lose seven seniors from a program that is the first 4A girls team to make three consecutive title-game appearances since Broomfield won it five years in a row from 2007-11.
“Hardly anyone gets to win their last game, so that’s what we really wanted,” Hahn said. “We wanted to show that we could go out with a win.”