Rangely girls come up short in regional game

Members of Rangely’s girls’ basketball team departed March 4 for the regional tournament in Durango. The Lady Panthers had their season come to an end with a first-round loss to Lutheran Parker, 44-38. See more regional basketball coverage on Pages 9A and 10A.

Members of Rangely’s girls’ basketball team departed March 4 for the regional tournament in Durango. The Lady Panthers had their season come to an end with a first-round loss to Lutheran Parker, 44-38.RANGELY I A three-year starter played in her final game, her high school basketball career over. While the team that handed the Lady Panthers two of their losses could go all the way. And Rangely’s coach is looking ahead to next season.
Ah, basketball in March.
It’s a time when dreams are dashed, prospects rise and fall with one game and there’s the hope of better things in the future.
Rangely’s dream of advancing to the state tournament came up short — by six points, to be exact. The Lady Panthers lost to Lutheran Parker 44-38 in last Friday’s first-round game at the 2A regional tournament in Durango. The loss ended the season for Rangely, which finished with a 14-9 record.
“It wasn’t our best game,” Rangely coach Jimmie Mergelman said. “We could’ve beat ’em, if we’d had a few more shots fall here and there.”
The loss ended the high school basketball career for point guard Audrey Hogan, who was a three-year starter for the Lady Panthers and led the team in scoring this season, averaging about 13 points per game.
“She’s been a huge part of our team,” Mergelman said of Hogan. “Everything ran through her. She had a great career.”
It also was the final game for fellow senior and reserve player Kristin Steele.
“She’s an awesome kid,” Mergelman said of Steele. “She was great. She never complained. She supported her teammates.”
While the Lady Panthers saw their season end, Sanford beat Lutheran Parker by three points, 35-32, in the championship game to advance out of the Region 3 tournament. Advancing out of the Region 5 tournament was Western Slope League champion Paonia, which beat the Lady Panthers twice this season, though by much narrower margins than it beat the rest of its opponents.
Paonia pounded Hoehne 67-35 in the regional final, which was typical of the point differential the 22-1 Lady Eagles enjoyed this season.
Rangely’s two losses to Paonia were by 13 and 14 points.
“We’ve played them the closest of all of their opponents,” Mergelman said. “I know we have the ability to beat ’em, if we had everybody playing well on the same day. I predict them to be state champions.”
While Mergelman was sorry to see the Lady Panthers’ season end, she was proud of her team.
“This has been a great group of girls,” said Mergelman, who was in her fourth season as basketball coach. “They always hustled. We never had any problems with girls not getting along. They practiced hard every day. As far as an overall hardworking team, this is probably the best one I’ve had. They just want to win and do their best at whatever they do, and luckily I’ll have all of them back except Audrey and Kristin.”
Mergelman likes her team’s prospects for next season, and with good reason. Rangely will return all but one starter, including its top scorers from the regional game — Brittany Babineaux and Victoria Phelan, who scored 12 and 11 points, respectively — as well as a junior class that includes Marie Morton, Phelan, Torie Slagle and Roz Thacker, as well as sophomore Haeley Enterline and freshman Quincey Thacker. Babineaux is a freshman.
While Mergelman has plenty of reasons to look forward to the future, she can’t help but think about how far the Lady Panthers might have advanced this season.
“Yeah, it’s a little bittersweet,” the Rangely coach said. “If we could have just ever played with enough confidence and gotten the girls to believe they are the best.”
There’s always next season.