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MEEKER I The seniors on the Meeker girls’ basketball team ended their high school basketball careers with a win Saturday, finishing in third place in the 2014 Colorado State Basketball Championships.
“There are 67 2A teams in the state and three win their last game, less than five percent,” head coach Greg Chintala said.
The team sealed their place in the history books with the best finish in Meeker girls’ basketball in 19 years. The competition in Pueblo was extremely tough but the Cowboys proved they belonged there with the best.
Meeker came out Thursday night against Akron and had another huge first quarter outscoring the Rams 23-16 in the first quarter. Meeker cooled off a little in the second quarter but held their lead to go into the half up one.
Akron was not going to back down and kept the score close trailing by one going into the final eight minutes. The incredible rebounding of Deena Norell, (six in the first quarter alone), kept the Cowboys in control.
The defensive pressure increased in the last quarter and the aggressive drives by Sydney Hughes and shooting by Taylor Neilson gave Meeker a spot in the final four with a 52-47 win over Akron.
Neilson led the team in scoring with 17, followed by Hughes with 13, Piper Haney with 10, Norell finished with seven and Aly Ridings had five.
The semifinal game proved to be one that could very well have been played Saturday night, as it was the closest and arguably the most exciting game of the tournament. Hometown fans that could not make the trip heard it all on their radios, and it was obvious Meeker was outsized but certainly not out worked.
Lutheran had a 6-foot post underneath, quick guards and a long bench. They were the number one seed but Meeker was not intimidated.
“We were the smallest team there but out rebounded all the teams,” Coach Chintala said.
The lady Cowboys came out matching the level of play and finished the first quarter down two, behind Haney’s four points. The second quarter was no doubt the best defense Lutheran had seen all season as they were only able to score two points. Meeker used the momentum from their defense to get their offense going and a three-point shot by Norell gave the Cowboys the lead. Hughes played like only she can, getting steals and increasing the tempo as she had two assists to Ridings, increasing Meeker’s lead.
Neilson had a 3-pointer with a little over three minutes in the second quarter and the Cowboys went into the locker room up six points.
The second half was a fight throughout and Lutheran closed the gap to be within one going into the final quarter. In the last eight minutes, the game was back and forth, both teams fighting for the chance to play in the championship game.
The work ethic of the Cowboys made them a “crowd favorite,” Chintala said.
Hughes continued to drive to the basket and draw fouls forcing foul trouble for Lutheran and putting Meeker in the double bonus early.
Neilson, Ridings, Haney and Norell played together, out-rebounding the bigger girls and making plays that could only be learned from hours and hours on the elementary courts growing up.
Ridings had a 3-point play late in the quarter and the Cowboys took a four point lead with just over a minute to play.
Lutheran hit a big three to get the game back to one. The last 30 seconds seemed to last forever, and a heartbreaking shot fell in the final seconds to give Lutheran a 1-point lead 39-38.
The loss set up a Saturday game against a tough Peyton team for third place. The consolation championship is won by the team that can come back from a loss, determined to end their season on a win.
Meeker came out a little cold in the first quarter and were down 7-19 after the first eight minutes. The fight the girls have shown all season came back in the second quarter and they roared to 24-9 second quarter score, going into half up three.
A questionable foul called on Hughes gave her four fouls and unable to play in the third quarter. Meeker kept their composure but were down two after three quarters.
Behind the confident, ball handling and shooting of Neilson, Meeker put together a very impressive fourth quarter, outscoring Peyton by eight points and winning the game 62-56.
Meeker once again had balanced scoring and found different players stepping up at different times as they did the entire tournament and year. The girls put together an impressive 23-3 season and a third place finish.
Chintala said, “I am extremely proud of what this team did, they were incredible.”
Congratulations to the team and coaches of the 2014 third place team, you have left a mark greater then any in nearly two decades, and represented Meeker well on and off the court.