Tick, tock. Tick tock. The wait is over as Windsor returns to Class 4A girls basketball state semifinals with win over Rifle | MyWindsorNow.com
Bobby Fernandez
bfernandez@greeleytribune.com

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Tick, tock. Tick tock. The wait is over as Windsor returns to Class 4A girls basketball state semifinals with win over Rifle

With every tick of the game clock Friday, the Windsor Wizards inched closer and closer to booking a trip they haven't made in 21 years.

Every silky smooth Michaela Moran 3-pointer … tick, tock.

Every time Chaynee Kingsbury darted in front of a pass and lasered the ball up the court … tick, tock.

Each Ally Kennis gritty rebound and ferocious Madi Denzel block … as the clock struck zero, the festivities were only beginning for the Wizards and the legions of fans that packed Reg Figal Gymnasium.

Fifth-seeded Windsor made play after play, and 13th-seeded Rifle ultimately had no answer as the Wizards started strong and closed even stronger to top the Bears 56-43 in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A Girls Basketball Championships on Friday.

"These girls have really worked hard for this opportunity," Windsor coach Jim Porth said. "They earned it. Kudos to the girls. They girls have just worked so hard and have bought into everything we are trying to do. And, this is what happens when you do that."

The Wizards (20-6) move on to the semifinals against top-seeded Pueblo South (24-2) on Thursday at the Denver Coliseum. It's their first trip to the semifinals since 1996.

The only time Windsor trailed was 46 seconds in when Rifle's Katy Manuppella assisted Elly Walters on a 3-pointer on the Bears' first position.

Moran, the Wizards' junior starting shooting guard, promptly responded with a 3 of her own — her first of three in the first quarter — and up-tempo Windsor was off to the races … figuratively and literally.

"They're a fantastic team, and they're young," Rifle coach Kristy Wallner said of Windsor. "I think Windsor High School and the fans around here are going to have a fun team to watch for (the rest of) this year and next year."

The Bears ended their surprising postseason run with a 22-3 record after seeing their 17-game win streak end at Windsor's hands. The Wizards snapped The Classical Academy's 12-game win streak with a 49-43 win in the third round Tuesday.

Moran scored a game-high 22 points to increase her state tournament scoring average to 15.3 and her season average to 11.1.

She was the ignition for a blazing hot start for Windsor, which led 23-13 after sophomore Karly Mathern came off the bench and promptly drained a 3 to start the second quarter.

"That's just how our team is," Moran said. "Once we get going, we really get going. Especially on our defensive side, we focused on doing the little things: staying low, because (the Bears) like to drive and shoot 3s."

While Moran provided the opening round jabs in what resembled a 10-round prizefight, Wizards junior Madi Denzel delivered the knockout blow … well, about four of them, to be accurate.

Her four highlight-reel blocks came at the most opportune of times, routinely stifling any budding momentum the sound, disciplined Bears had built.

"It's definitely fun because it gets the crowd riled up and the energy just goes up from there," Denzel said of her clutch shot-blocking. "That was what coach said in the beginning: defense and free throws win championships. I wasn't doing so good on the free throw line, so I made up for it with my defense."

After an offensive rebound by Rifle sophomore Masi Smith, Denzel skied for a block, swatting Elly Walters' shot attempt into the hands of her Windsor teammate, Kingsbury.

Kingsbury quickly fired an outlet pass upcourt and Moran sprinted for a breakaway layup to give the Wizards a 49-38 lead with 2:30 left, part of a 11-5 win-clinching run by Windsor in the final 3 minutes.

While Moran started the Wizards' charge to the semifinals and Denzel effectively ended Rifle's postseason run, Windsor received a long list of contributions from the rest of its deep roster in between its frenetic first quarter and conclusive final quarter.

While the duo of Walters and senior Samantha Hinkle scored Rifle's first 29 points and 35 of their 43 overall, the Wizards countered with points from seven players, including five players with five or more points.

The contributions were just as widespread on defense.

Wallner was quick to point out that Windsor's unmatched speed doesn't dip a bit when it goes to its bench. In fact, the Wizards may even become quicker when bringing in their subs.

Kingsbury — a versatile multi-sport athlete — leads the blazing brigade. She scored just three points Friday but was able to create scoring opportunities for her teammates, using her quick hands to swipe three steals and dish three assists.

"We're always in (to the game) and always aware on the bench," Kingsbury said. "We're talking, saying 'Hey, you've got her, and you have to make sure you're talking to the girls (on the court), because you're going in for her.' … It's just a constant rotation. The starters come out, they watch us to see what they can do better and (the defense) just increasingly gets better throughout the game."

Best individual performance

On a team with incredible balance and wall-to-wall contributors, Moran helped lift Windsor into the semifinals with a game-high 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, sinking her first three field goals — all 3s — in the first quarter. She also had three steals.

Turning point

The Wizards led almost the entire way. Rifle made a run in the third to tie game at 35 on Katy Manuppella's three-point play with 3:55 left in the quarter.

Windsor closed that quarter on a 7-0 run, extending its run to 10 in the fourth.

Up Next

Windsor faces top-seeded Pueblo South in the semifinals Thursday at the Denver Coliseum.

It's the Wizards' first trip to the semifinals since 1996 as they pursue their second state title, with their first coming in 1994.

Wizards break through in Round of 16

As Michaela Moran dished an assist into the paint and Ally Kennis sank a fastbreak layup with 31 seconds left Tuesday, it wasn't just a perfect pass Moran was letting go of.

She and her Windsor teammates let go of years of frustration from frequent Class 4A playoff exits in the round of 16. They let go of that little voice in their heads that questioned whether their program is good enough to hang within the classification's top tier. They let go of any doubt they or anyone else might have had of whether a team that lacks a superstar but has plenty of reliable options can go beyond being "just good enough" and prove to be as good as anybody, better than most.

But, it was what they were grabbing onto that meant so much more than what they were letting go of: A long-sought-after trip to the final three rounds of the 4A Girls Basketball Championships, a berth in the state tournament's round of 8.

After using their defense to survive a rough-and-tumble first half, Moran, Kennis and their Wizards teammates found their rhythm and cohesion on offense in the second half.

They surged to a 49-43 win in the state tournament's third round against 21st-seeded The Classical Academy in front of a packed house at Reg Figal Gymnasium.

"Oh man, it's the best feeling in the world," said Kennis, a sophomore, who scored nine points and grabbed nine critical rebounds to ignite Windsor's second half run.

"We played as a team, and we've been practicing all season for this. We've been waiting all year to do this. This is what we've been working toward."

Through the first two quarters, Windsor appeared to be in danger of seeing its season end at the same point it concluded four of the past five years, with the only exception being in 2014, when its season ended one round earlier.

The Wizards trailed 22-18 at halftime, confounded by the suffocating defense of a Titans squad that entered with a 12-game win streak and far more game than its lower seed might indicate.

In the second half, Windsor maintained its own grit on defense while solving its earlier offensive woes, outscoring TCA 31-21 in the final two quarters, including 18-9 during the game-changing third quarter.

Moran, a junior, scored eight of her game-high 13 points after halftime. She said the entire team came out of the locker rooms at halftime re-energized, determined to keep this from being another Windsor postseason run that ends in that dreaded round of 16.

"It's honestly a dream come through," Moran said of the landmark win. "Ever since I came here as a freshman, that's been the goal. We had never gotten past (the round of 16), in I think, at least 20 years. So, it's awesome."

After trailing almost all of the first half, Windsor took its first lead since the opening three minutes when sophomore guard Hollie Hoffman grabbed a rebound then went coast to coast for a layup to put her team up 28-27 with 4:19 left in the third.

The Wizards extended their lead to 39-29 with 1:44 left in the third after Kennis grabbed an offensive rebound under the basket, shook a defender, then sank a hook shot to cap a 9-2 run.

But, much like how Windsor didn't fold in the first half, TCA refused to go away in the second.

Titans junior RaeAnn Queener drove from the top of the key, drew a Madi Denzel foul and sank one of two free throws to put TCA up 41-40 with 2:09 left.

Moran's floater 27 seconds later gave the Wizards the lead again, and Hoffman and Kennis had a pair of key baskets in the final 64 seconds to finally shake Windsor's third-round woes.

"We made some mistakes, but when we had to play with poise, when we had to play with patience, when we had to do things right, (the girls) came through," Porth said. "We're a young team, but everybody on this team contributed. … We had to 'will' it a little bit there at the end."

Best individual Performance

Even though Moran did what she has done all season — leading a supremely balanced Wizards team in scoring — Kennis deserves the nod for being the spark Windsor needed in the second half.

In short, the athletic 5-foot-10 forward was all over the place, battling for boards, playing tough interior defense and slicing to the hoop for key baskets.

Turning point

After Classical Academy had largely controlled the second half, a dominant third quarter gave Windsor the cushion it needed to narrowly fend off the Titans in the fourth.

Windsor 56, Rifle 43

RHS 13 8 14 8 — 43

WHS 20 10 12 14 — 56

RHS — Elly Walters 6 3-4 20, Samantha Hinkle 4 4-6 15, Katy Manuppella 2 1-1 6, Karly Manuppella 1 0-2 2, Peyton Caldwell 0 0-0 0, Jessie Pressler 0 0-0 0, Carley Rice 0 0-0 0, Masi Smith 0 0-0 0, Mackenzie Ventrello 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 8-13 43

WHS — Michaela Moran 7 4-4 22, Ally Kennis 4 1-3 10, Karly Mathern 3 1-2 8, Madi Denzel 2 1-4 5, Hollie Hoffman 2 0-0 5, Sam Greene 1 1-2 3, Chaynee Kingsbury 0 3-4 3, Taylor Kramer 0 0-0 0, Daria Peck 0 0-0 0, Karee Porth 0 0-0 0, Adalyn Vergara 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 11-19 56

3-point field goals — RHS 9 (Walters 5, Hinkle 3, Katy Manupella); WHS 7 (Moran 4, Hoffman, Kennis, Mathern).

Total fouls — RHS 18; WHS 15.

Windsor 49, The Classical Academy 43

TCA 11 11 9 12 — 43

WHS 7 11 18 13 — 49

TCA — Bervig 4 1-1 11, Boyles 3 4-6 10, Queener 3 4-6 10, Walters 3 1-1 7, Walker 1 3-4 5, Feldotto 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 13-18 43

WHS — Michaela Moran 6 1-1 13, Ally Kennis 4 1-2 9, Hollie Hoffman 4 0-1 8, Madi Denzel 3 1-2 7, Adalyn Vergara 2 2-4 6, Sam Greene 2 0-0 4, Karly Mathern 0 2-2 2, Chaynee Kingsbury 0 0-1 0. Totals 19 7-13 49

3-point field goals — TCA 2 (Bervig 2); WHS 0.

Total fouls — TCA 18; WHS 16.