It’s not the state playoffs without some fourth-quarter drama.
Despite leading the entire way up into the final period, and by as much as 19 points in the first half, the Montrose girls basketball team almost saw its advantage disappear after the visiting Mesa Ridge Grizzlies cut the lead to three with about 1:30 remaining in the game.
But the Lady Indians’ playoff experience wasn’t going to let them have a fourth-quarter meltdown.
Montrose’s Kennadie Minerich’s dagger free throws with 1:06 minutes remaining in the game as part of a 19-point effort gave the Lady Indians the go-ahead lead.
The Lady Indians (19-5) then went on to defeat the Grizzlies, 49-43, Friday night in the second round of the state playoffs.
“It was a team effort,” coach Steve Skiff said. “... We got off to a great start. We scored the basketball. We did go into one of those lulls but we kept playing defense and making plays.”
Minerich said the team’s playoff experience from last year did in fact give them an extra edge late.
“We have that confidence and we know we can make those big plays at the end of the game,” she said.
Ally Nichols added 17 for Montrose as she and Minerich proved to be the one-two punch that the home team needed on offense.
“We have a really good inside-outside game and I think that helps us be well-rounded,” Minerich said. “It helped us there at the end.”
“We know each other's strengths and we just see the openings,” Nichols said.
But “the unsung hero” of the night has to be Hadley Greiner, Skiff said. He praised the senior guard for having to guard Mesa Ridge’s leading scorer, Serin Dunne, who came in averaging over 16 points, but Greiner limited her to just 11.
Mesa Ridge’s late comeback came in part to its free-throw shooting. The Grizzlies made their first 11 from the charity stripe before going 19-of-23 (83 percent) on the night.
In comparison, Montrose went 11-of-18 (61 percent) but 10 of those free throw attempts came in the final minute of the game after Mesa Ridge was forced to foul the home team in the hopes of a comeback.
Skiff credited Mesa Ridge’s offensive game plan in driving to the basket, which led the Grizzlies to get to the line more often.
“They have some good players but we held them under control,” he said. “We made plays when we needed to to wrap things up.”
Montrose led wire-to-wire in the game thanks in part to a 19-point first quarter while limiting Mesa Ridge to only seven in the opening period.
The Lady Indians led as many as 19 in the second period at 32-13, but the Grizzlies closed out the first half on a 6-0 run to keep the game close. Still, Montrose led 32-19 at the intermission.
Montrose’s offense hit a snag in the third quarter as the home team put up five points in the entire period. It helped the visiting team as Mesa Ridge cut the lead to 37-27 at the end of the frame.
The Lady Indians’ free-throw shooting proved to be the difference as half of their 12 points came from the line with about a minute left to play.
Skiff said those key free throws show signs of a senior-led team.
“They’ve been there and done that,” he said. “They used past playoff performances and they weren’t going to be denied.”
Montrose will have its chance to avenge last season’s Great 8 loss as the Lady Indians will host Mullen again but this time in the Sweet Sixteen. The Mustangs are coming in as the reigning state champions and returning all five starters from a year ago.
Although the Mustangs’ game hadn’t gone final following Montrose’s win, Skiff said his team “wants Mullen” as a way to redeem last year’s defeat.
“I want them in our place again. The thing about this group is that they know what they’re about. If you want to get to the pinnacle of this tournament, you’re going to have to beat the best,” he said.