“It was amazing to watch”
While it took until their next to last game, the Crested Butte Lady Titans played one of their finest games of the season during a brief post-season run last week.
The Lady Titans rattled off an easy win over Antonito in the opening round of the playoffs to earn the dubious distinction of facing the number-one team in the league and top-five team in the state, Sangre de Cristo, on Tuesday, February 26.
Confidence was high heading into the game with the Lady Titans continuing to improve with each week down the stretch of the regular season.
“I felt like the way we had been playing, we could step it up against Sangre,” says coach Marymike Haley.
But, as fortune would have it, especially in the world of high school sports, the team you think you have can turn into the team you dread as the Lady Titans fell to Sangre de Cristo 62-33.
Sangre jumped out to an 18-4 lead by the end of the first quarter and while Crested Butte made some strides and started scoring in the second quarter, there was nothing that could turn the game around for Crested Butte.
“We didn’t show up to that game at all,” says Haley. “We were just flat.”
Remarkably, the loss did not put an end to the season for the Lady Titans—it merely left them in the consolation bracket to battle with three other teams for the lone fifth spot in the regionals.
It also offered Crested Butte one more chance to show their true potential as they headed back to the San Luis Valley to play Sierra Grande on Friday, March 1.
Sierra Grande crushed the Lady Titans 68-42 the last time the two teams met. Yet Haley saw some weaknesses in the Sanford squad and, despite the score, still saw opportunity for her team.
“I was optimistic we could beat them,” says Haley.
Furthermore, Haley had a plan in place that included switching to a 3-2 zone to shut off their deadly perimeter shooters and press the entire game.
The game opened up in full run-and-gun mode with each team scoring on nearly every possession. Crested Butte was down 19-15 at the end of the first quarter but came back to outscore Sierra Grande 12-9 in the second quarter to pull within one.
“By halftime, we started to believe,” says Haley.
Sierra Grande built up a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and held the Lady Titans at bay until the final minute.
Elizabeth Kilpatrick stepped to the free throw line with her team down by four and hit one of two shots. The Lady Titans stole the ball on Sierra Grande’s next possession and Maddie Stichter drained a three-pointer to tie the game 51-51 and force it into overtime.
“Maddie was playing outstanding basketball and kept us in the game,” says Haley.
Rather than sit back and see what Sierra Grande would bring into overtime, the Lady Titans continued on the offensive to build a five-point lead.
Sierra Grande converted on three free throws to cut the lead to two with time running out and Crested Butte held onto the ball to seal the 60-58 overtime win.
“They were smart, they took care of the ball, they ran their offense and they finished, which is what I’ve been trying to get them to do all season,” explains Haley. “It was the team I knew they could be all season. It was amazing to watch.”
Shannon Costello scored 17 points, Elisabet Desmarais pulled down a staggering 15 rebounds and Kilpatrick had one of her best efforts of the year with 11 points and eight boards. The team also got key offensive efforts from Suzanna Dumas and Ali McGuire, who scored 10 and eight points, respectively.
The hope was to carry that miraculous momentum into their next playoff game on Saturday against Sanford and pull off another upset and earn a berth to the regional tournament.
But that hope would prove to be just a glimmer as Sanford outlasted the Lady Titans to hand them a 59-40 defeat, thus ending their season.
After falling behind 16-7 in the first quarter, Crested Butte fought back to pull within five points by halftime.
Sanford then opened with a devastating scoring run to build a 47-30 lead heading into the fourth quarter and seal the Lady Titans’ demise.
“It was really frustrating because you’re thinking you can hang with them and then we fell asleep,” says Haley. “If not everybody’s producing, you can’t stick with a team like Sanford.”
Stichter and Desmarais closed their high school careers in fine fashion, with Stichter scoring 18 points and Desmarais pulling down 10 rebounds.
“It was a good season and I’m proud of them,” says Haley. “They’re a group of awesome athletes. My hope is that they’ll carry that experience of beating Sierra Grande into next year.”
Unfortunately, that next year will not include coach Haley, as she announced she is retiring from coaching Crested Butte basketball and moving to Carbondale.