COLORADO SPRINGS — The Class 3A defending state champion picked a terrible night to struggle with shooting the ball.
In the first of likely multiple matchups this season, it was Colorado Springs Christian who came away with a 55-38 win over St. Mary's in a rematch of last year's 3A title game.
As Tri-Peaks rivals, the 3A No. 1 Lions and No. 2 Pirates met on three separate occasions a year ago and it was the Pirates (13-1 overall, 6-1 Tri-Peaks) who came out with two of the three wins, the last of which gave them their first girls basketball state title.
But Saturday was all about the Lions (13-0, 5-0).
Knowing more than one game is likely, coach Mark Engesser was admittedly nervous before the game, but didn't necessarily stress to girls that they should be on the hunt for redemption.
"We didn't talk about that much," Engesser said. "We just wanted to finally play them. We've been waiting a long time to play them and we just wanted to finally play them and see how we matched up against them. See how they played, see how we played them and see what we need to get better at because there's a good chance we play them two more times."
With neither team shy about firing shots from behind the 3-point line, the early feel of the game was leaning in the direction of a shootout.
Seneca Hackley knocked down an early triple to give the Pirates an early edge, but the team instantly went cold after. Overall, it had to be the worst shooting night that St. Mary's has had all year.
"Playing a team like CSCS, you're never going to feel okay," St. Mary's coach Mike Burkett said. "You have to keep battling all the way to the end. We gave up a stretch where we probably didn't work as hard as we should have. And it cost us."
While the Pirates struggled to knock down shots, it was CSCS, and a freshman, that caught fire from behind the arc. All four of Elleah Hoekert's field goals were from long range and she ended the game scoring a game-high 16 points.
"I just really wanted to play for my team and especially the seniors on the team," Hoekert said. "I wanted to play for them and get them a win."
She and Corrie Anderson were the only CSCS players to connect on 3-pointers in the first half, a surprising stat considering Megan Engesser and Rachel Ingram are two of the top four scorers in the state.
Engesser would end the game scoring 14 points, all of which came in the second half. Ingram struggled to make shots, hitting just three field goals all game and scoring 10 total points. But she didn't care as long as the result turned out the way it did.
After falling short of a state title last year, the Lions are focused on a single team goal and they don't care which one of them leads the way.
"We've been focusing a lot on team this year," Ingram said. "It's not about who scores the points, it's about whoever's open shoots in and we have a lot of great shooters. I'm happy they showed up tonight."
CSCS cannot count on the Pirates struggling to hit shots again. The problem wasn't with finding open looks. The Pirates had plenty of looks from Hackley and Josephine Howery, the leading scorer in all of 3A.
They just weren't falling. If these two teams meet again, the Lions know they can't let the Pirates get as many easy shots off as they did on Saturday.
"We could do a better job of closing out on their shooters and stop them from shooting threes," Ingram said.
Howery led the Pirates with 13 points in the loss. The Pirates will look to bounce back on Tuesday when they host rival Manitou Springs. That same day CSCS will head to Vanguard. And if Engesser and Ingram have the same difficulty getting the ball to the basket, Engesser is thrilled to know he has a younger player in Hoekert that he can rely on.
"She's a freshman," Engesser said. "Sometimes she plays like a freshman, but she played like an upperclassman tonight and I'm very proud of her.. It was a fantastic effort."