“I’m immensely proud of this team, especially the seniors”
by Than Acuff
After putting together one of their most successful seasons in 10 years, the Crested Butte Titans girls basketball team fell to the Highland Huskies in the first round of the 3A state tournament on Friday, March 3.
The Titans finished the regular season with a record of 13-6, their first winning record since the 2013-2014 season. They went on to win one of two games in the district tournament to earn the 23rd seed in the first round of the 3A state tournament, the first time for the program since the 2009-2010 season.
“They went into regionals with a lot of confidence, and we spent the entire week preparing for the game,” says coach Amanda Reynolds.
Highland came into the game as the 10th seed and the Titans opened the game looking to prove they would and could punch well above their weight. After the two teams traded baskets to open things off, Lexi Pickering scored inside and from behind the three-point arc for an 8-4 Titans’ lead three minutes into the game. Highland responded with a three-pointer, but Blakeley Reynolds then drained back-to-back threes and Annie Collins and Molly Miller scored buckets inside as the Titans went on a 14-3 run to build a 22-13 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“It was incredible, they were playing out of their minds,” says Amanda. “Everything was firing.”
Things then started to unravel for Crested Butte as Highland stepped up their defense focused on shutting down Blakeley and pressuring the ball every chance they got. Meanwhile, Highland’s guards started finding seams to the basket and success from the perimeter to outscore Crested Butte 19-3 in the second quarter to take a 32-25 lead.
“They were good, they had three girls that could just flat out play,” says Amanda. “We did some fine-tuning, switched some defensive match ups and adjusted our offense slightly.”
Crested Butte came back onto the court determined to keep the Huskies close. Blakeley turned in a three-point play to open the third quarter and Pickering followed with an offensive rebound and basket, and the Titans were turning the tide back in their favor. But Highland’s pace soon took hold again as they scored the next seven points. Crested Butte responded to finish the quarter strong as the teams played even, but Highland still held their seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think there was one second when we doubted we could come back,” says Amanda.
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Highland made an obvious decision to run the clock out as they started taking time with the ball on offense.
“They ran a spread offense the last six minutes and that got us into foul trouble,” says Amanda.
Blakeley knocked down four more points to keep the Titans within striking range, but Highland’s spread offense did what it was designed to do. Blakeley eventually fouled out with a little under two minutes left, and while both Pickering and Miller scored down the stretch, Highland closed out the 54-46 win. Blakeley led all scorers with 28 points, Pickering scored 10 while Ellie Duryea led the team with 11 rebounds followed by Collins with eight.
“It’s hard to lose and say our game plan worked but it did,” says Amanda. “We put a game together and we just didn’t quit.”
This process for Amanda started when she took on the coaching position three years ago and her only regret is that she doesn’t have another year with the seniors.
“I’m immensely proud of this team, especially the seniors,” she says. “When you look at the entire season and what these seniors have done the last three years, it speaks for itself.”
While the team will graduate a number of key players, the foundation for the program is back in place for continued success.
“Our juniors will have to step up, but I know they have it in them,” says Amanda. “Middle school coaches Talley (Nichols) and Savannah (Matzinger) have done a really good job of stoking the excitement for this program. I have kids texting me asking when they can get in the gym again and that’s every coach’s dream.”