DENVER – It wasn’t like Mullen’s girls basketball team played poorly in the first half Saturday afternoon.
But for the Mustangs, who went into halftime of the Class 4A state championship game trailing by two points, a fire had been lit. Mullen came out of the locker room looking like the team that had made such an impressive run through the state tournament, taking control with a long-range barrage that seemingly couldn’t miss.
The 14th-seeded Mustangs outscored No. 4 Pueblo South by 23 points over the final 16 minutes, capturing their first state championship since 2006 with a 63-44 victory over the Colts at Denver Coliseum.
“Honestly at halftime, we were mad. We did not come this far to lose this game,” said senior guard Iliana Perez, who finished with a game-high 17 points off the bench. “We came to show everybody that had underestimated us and everybody that had told us that we couldn’t do it, that we could do it.”
Mullen (20-8) was 10-of-21 from 3-point range on the afternoon, knocking down eight of its 13 attempts in the second half. Megan Pohs finished with 16 points and Abby Webster poured in 12 points off the bench.
“You’ve got two people off the bench (scoring) 17 and 12,” said Pueblo South coach Shannan Lane, who was coaching her final game after more than two decades with the program. “We held (Imani Perez) to six points, and we knew what a terrific player (Pohs) is, but Jada (Dupree) kind of evened her out.
“I think the difference really for Mullen was their bench play.”
The Mustangs won only eight games a year ago and didn’t make the postseason. But after a strong showing during the regular season – four of the team’s five in-state losses came to Centennial League rivals Cherry Creek and Grandview, which played for the 5A title Saturday night – Mullen powered through four of the top six seeds in the 4A tourney field.
“To come in this year and win it, is just so different,” Webster said. “Every girl we’ve had has contributed to this team. We’re so proud of each other, and it’s just an awesome experience. We just hope it will happen again.”
Pueblo South (24-4) was making its third consecutive appearance in the 4A title game. The Colts led 23-21 at halftime behind a strong showing from senior Gabi Lucero and Dupree, but couldn’t pull away from Mullen.
Pohs gave the Mustangs the lead early in the second half with a 3-pointer, igniting a 29-10 run that lasted early into the fourth quarter. Webster, who averaged only three points a game this season, hit two big 3-pointers in the third quarter and another early in the fourth. Perez scored 15 of her 17 points in the second half.
“I guess we came out with a little bit of spitfire,” Iliana Perez said. “Once one girl hits a shot, we just pick up energy and we feed off each other’s energy.”
“We’ve never had anything like this. We had so much energy at halftime in our talk,” Webster added. “We just wanted to keep it going through that talk.”
Pueblo South couldn’t find its shot in the second half, and Lucero – who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds – scored four points over the final two quarters as the Colts shot just 22 percent as a team.
Dupree led Pueblo South with 16 points before fouling out late in the game.
Asked what she said to the team in the locker room, Lane – who was the head coach for the past 11 years and led the team to four title-game appearances and a championship in 2013 – said it was no different than what any coach would have said.
“Everybody wants to win in that game, and they were in that game. This is our third one losing,” she said. “That speech is very well known. I kind of told them they don’t want to hear those words – it doesn’t ease the pain. They’re going to cry, but the sun’s coming up in the morning.”
Mullen graduates five seniors, but the core of its lineup was sophomores and freshmen.
Perez said for her though, getting to go out on top meant everything.
“I’m not necessarily in shock, but I’m just so overjoyed that we are getting to do this. I’m getting to share this moment with my sister (Imani),” she said. “Actually, I get to share this with all of my sisters – that team is my family. I couldn’t have asked for a better team. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year.”