March 11, 2017
One of sports' great paradoxes is the mixture of pain and pride that a loss deep into a playoff run can engender.
You have something to celebrate, but also something to mourn.
Thursday night, in the cavernous underbelly of the Denver Coliseum, the Windsor Wizards girl's basketball team ran that emotional gamut. For a few moments of its Class 4A semifinal matchup against Pueblo South, the state title game was in its grasp, but over a quarter and a half it slowly slipped away.
The Colts prevailed 53-41.
“You always want to play one more. We know we had a great run.” Jim Porth Coach
Neither team's offense performed at its peak, but when Pueblo South started making shots late, the Wizards couldn't respond.
"You always want to play one more," Windsor coach Jim Porth said. "We know we had a great run."
Indeed they did. The Wizards finish their season 20-7. They made the Class 4A final four for the first time in more than two decades, and they did so with only two seniors on the roster. Windsor was playing with house money. It just ran out at the worst possible time.
"What happens, happens," said Wizards guard Michaela Moran, who led the team with 14 points. "You can't control the ending."
That summed up Windsor's offensive night. The Wizards shot 28 percent from the field and missed all 15 of their 3-point attempts — this from a team that shot 35 percent from deep this season.
And yet, Windsor was in the game for the vast majority of it. It held Pueblo South to just 39 percent shooting, lit up the court with fast breaks (16 points) and piled up second-chance points (10) against the much-bigger Colts.
Pueblo South senior swingwoman Hannah Kochen dropped 26 —tying a career high — on 10-of-14 shooting. The rest of the Colts combined to go 13 of 45.
She worked in perfect concert with Pueblo South's bigs (the Colts start two 6-footers, the Wizards none), who set brutal screens to free Kochen's drive and cuts, and who picked apart the Wizards with their interior passing.
"We worked on it all week, trying to get over those screens," Porth said. "They're big and wide. We're fast but we're little."
That speed kept Windsor in the game. It fast-broke its way to a 9-0 run across the end of the second and the beginning of the third quarter to take a 24-23 lead early in the period.
The Wizards went bucket-for-bucket with Pueblo South until Kochen buried a 3 to put the Colts up 32-30. Their lead grew and grew and grew — to eight points at the end of the third, to 10 early in the fourth.
Windsor shot only 3 of 13 in that final frame. The more it trailed by, the more it seemed to want to make up the entire deficit at once. The Wizards forced numerous off-the-dribble 3s as they got down by double-digits. Moran and Karly Mathern pulled up from range that would've made Steph Curry blush.
"We knew we had to shoot our way back into it, so we had to take our chances," Porth said.
This night, for perhaps the first time in this dream season, they couldn't do it.
If anything, though, the Wizards left the court more determined than ever. Remember, they return all but two players, including their top six scorers. Tonight, those six shot 13 of 47. They don't want that to be the legacy they leave on this stage.
Nor will it be, if there's anything they can do about it.
"We're not done," Moran said.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Kochen was spectacular in matching her career-high with 26 points. Pueblo South's fourth-leading scorer picked up the slack from her slumping teammates inside, outside and at the free-throw line.
Her herky-jerky drives flummoxed the Windsor defense. She's tease the Wizards with the ball, then take it away at the last second like she'd graduated from the James Harden School of Drawing Fouls.
Halfway through the third quarter, Windsor led 30-29 and was matching Pueblo South shot-for-shot. Then Kochen buried a 3 to put the Colts up 32-30; the Wizards never led again, and Pueblo South closed the game on a 24-11 run.
For Windsor, the long wait for next season. Pueblo South will play No. 3 Evergreen (24-3) in the girls Class 4A championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Denver Coliseum.
WHS 9 12 11 9 41
PSHS 14 9 17 13 53
WHS — Chaynee Kingsbury 2 0-0 4; Ally Kennis 2 1-2 5; Hollie Hoffman 2 4-6 8; Sam Greene 1 0-0 2; Karly Mathern 1 0-0 2; Madi Denzel 3 0-0 6; Michaela Moran 6 2-3 14.
PSHS — Hannah Kochen 10 4-7 26; Drea Nelson 2 0-1 5; Brooke Gierhart 1 0-0 2; Maya Austin 1 0-0 2; Chloe Kraus 2 0-0 4; Maddie Leigh 3 0-0 6; Gabi Lucero 4 0-4 8.
3-point shooting — WHS 0; PSHS 3 (Kochen 2, Nelson).
Personal fouls — WHS 14; PSHS 15.