LAKEWOOD — There is a reason why basketball coaches insist players work on free throws before, during and after practice.
Green Mountain sophomore Courtney Hank is a perfect example.
“I’ve been working on them a lot since freshman year,” Hank said of her free-throw shooting. “It has been a little struggle. Something finally clicked.”
Making shots from the charity stripe are magnified even more during the playoffs and the spotlight Tuesday night was clearly on Hank. She stepped up to the free-throw line 18 times in the Class 4A girls basketball Sweet 16 game against No. 14 seed Durango.
“Courtney has been in the gym doing the extra work shooting on her own. It directly paid off to help win this game,” Green Mountain coach Darren Pitzner said after Hank’s 15-for-18 performance from the charity stripe helped lift the 4A Jeffco League champs and No. 3-seeded Rams to a 58-45 home win.
Hank finished with a game-high 23 points in a game that was close until the Rams (23-2 record) pulled away midway through the fourth quarter. Green Mountain went on a 12-2 run for nearly four minutes in the final quarter to grab its first double-digit lead of the game.
It was a struggled in the first half for the Rams. Durango held Green Mountain without a field goal in the second quarter to tie the game at 20-20 heading into halftime.
“I’m very proud of the girls. Much better composure in the second half,” Pitzner said. “We were really tested. Major credit to Durango. They had awesome fans here. They are extremely well-coached.”
The final fourth-quarter push by Green Mountain had plenty of players in key roles. Senior Riley Shoemaker hit a 3-pointer with 5:42 left in the fourth quarter to push the Rams’ lead to 41-37. Sophomore Shea Murphy scored in an inside bucket 20 seconds later.
“The balance was really good,” Pitzner said of the final stretch with seven different players scoring in the second half for the Rams. “The girls did a good job slowing the game down. We did a good job pounding the ball inside in the second half.”
Hank had her second 3-point play of the second half the hard way with the layup and foul with 4:18 remaining to make the score 46-37. Sophomore Avery Oaster had a nice inside basket for the Rams and Shoemaker scored on a driving layup to make it a double-digit lead.
“The seniors didn’t want this to be our last game,” Shoemaker said of the halftime talk. “We talked about coming together and stop playing as individuals.”
Hank finished out the game going 8-for-9 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Shoemaker finished with 10 points. Senior Maddie Phillips added eight points.
“Of course we have ambitious goals of what we want to accomplish this year, but much more important in the big picture for us is savoring every day together,” Pitzner said. “Continuing to push each other and work together as a family.”
The Rams ride their 9-game winning streak into the 4A state quarterfinals. Green Mountain hosts No. 11 Sierra on Friday, March 6, with a ticket to the Final 4 at the Denver Coliseum next week on the line. Sierra took a 43-40 road win over Thompson Valley on Tuesday night.
“It’s crazy. I never thought we’d get this far,” Hank said. “We are excited and we’ll see where it goes.”
Durango (15-10) closes out its season with the program’s first winning record since advancing to the Sweet 16 during the 2016-17 season. Freshman Mason Rowland scored a team-high 18 points off the bench for the Demons in the season-ending loss.