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The 2012 Rye Lady Thunderbolts pose at center court Saturday after upsetting the defending State Champion Sanford Indians to earn a berth in this week's 2A State Championship finals. They play in Pueblo tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Photo by Tony Marostica
Getting Physical. Thunderbolt Captain Danica Shipley is hammered in the lane by Sanford senior Kylan Reynolds. Shipley made 15 trips to the foul line vs. the Indians in Saturday's Regional Championship game.
For the second consecutive season, the now 18-6 Rye Lady T-Bolts have swept the Region Six playoffs to earn a berth in the 2A State Tournament Finals.
After posting a convincing 53-34 victory vs. the Calhan Lady Bulldogs last Friday afternoon, the RHS girls shocked 2A’s defending State Champions, the previously 20-2 and highly regarded Sanford Indians, on Saturday to cop the Regional crown and with it, a golden ticket to the 2012 State Championship finals.
To the delight of the Faithful, this year’s 2A State Championships will be held at the Events Center on the grounds of the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. In what will approximate a “home game” for the ‘Bolts, the #7 seeded Rye girls will open things up tomorrow (Thursday) night at 7:00 p.m. vs. the #2 seeded 22-2 Evangelical Christian Academy (ECA) Eagles out of Colorado Springs.
ECA is a team familiar to the RHS Faithful, being a former league foe when the Thunderbolts formerly played up in the ranks of 3A. In 2012 the ‘Bolts and the Eagles have entertained three opponents in common, Las Animas, Peyton, and the same Calhan Bulldogs (who beat ECA by nine points back on January 28th) Rye just matched up against at Regionals in La Junta. It was ECA who the Sanford girls beat a year ago when they won the 2A State Championship.
Last weekend’s playoff contest vs. Calhan began when T-Bolt senior Danica Shipley tipped things off at center court of the Otero junior College hardwood, then quickly notched the ‘Bolts first two points.
The Lady Bulldogs had earned the right to meet the Thunderbolts on the strength of a 4th place finish at their district tournament the week before in Colorado Springs. At 16-6, Calhan was not highly favored vs. #1 seeded Rye, in spite of their identical win/loss records.
After Shipley’s opening volley, buckets cashed by Kaylee Rahl, Jessica Lauritzen, and Aselynn Gauna combined with three more Shipley field goals had the ‘Bolts way up 16-2 at quarter’s end.
The Lady Bulldogs came to life in the second to ultimately outscore the ‘Bolts 14-12. Scrambling on both ends of the floor, Rye was able to stay nearly even with the ‘Dogs with scattered buckets and good free throw shooting by Shipley, Rahl and Bryna Burns.
While turning up the pressure on defense, Rye opened the third with a 10-0 run that put a dagger in Calhan’s weakly beating heart. All over but the cryin’, Calhan offered little resistance down the stretch as the ‘Bolts coasted to a 53-34 semi-final victory.
In the post-game locker room, Coach Bailey’s praise was generous. “Great job, girls!” He said, “You took it up another notch in the second half and made it look easy out there. You, all of you, earned this win.” He then outlined Friday’s return trip to La Junta for the 1:00 p.m. final. No hotels or overnighters for the T-Bolt Ladies. They’d each be sleeping snug in their own beds in preparation for the Saturday afternoon Regional Championship.
It was no surprise for the ladies to wake up and learn Saturday morning that they’d have to beat the Sanford Indians to take home a ticket to State. The defending champs had brushed aside 10-10 Front Range Christian 52-26 late Friday night, upping their season record to 20-2.
In spite of the fact that the Sanford boys were competing at Regionals over in Durango, taking at least half of the Indian Faithful with them, there was more than enough Sanford green and black in OJC Gymnasium Saturday afternoon to rival Rye’s sea of purple and white.
After winning the jump ball, Danica Shipley cashed the game’s first two points from the charity stripe in response to a Kylan Reynolds foul in the lane. But Sanford had come to play. The Lady Indians proceeded to outscore the ‘Bolts 10-2 before the period ended.
Somewhat in shock, it dawned on the Lady ‘Bolts that they were clearly up against the best high school girls’ basketball team they’d seen all year. And while the RHS girls did their level best to present their “A” game to Sanford, the Indians were taking no prisoners as they methodically added to their advantage in the second quarter. With a minute left before intermission Sanford notched their biggest lead yet at 30-16.
It was deathly quiet in the Thunderbolts’ halftime locker room when Coach Bailey strode in and said in matter of fact tones, “Hey girls, for the majority of the half, we had no real problems!” With the ice thus broken, the girls verbalized meaningful suggestions while Coach sketched out x’s and o’s on the whiteboard. As the team put their hands together before going back to work, Coach summarized things saying, “This thing is far from over!” One, Two Three, BOLTS!
Out on the OJC hardwood, the adjustments made in the T-Bolts’ halftime locker room began to bear fruit. One key to be immediately exploited, was the foul trouble the Sanford starting five had gotten into.
While the ‘Bolts reached deep to turn up the heat defensively, buckets cashed early in the third by Shipley and Gauna saw their opponent’s commanding lead begin to dwindle. At the 4:38 mark Rahl fed Shipley with a sweet pass in the paint that she cashed while being hacked by Sanford senior Lindsey Rodriguez. Danica’s and-one free throw made the score 25-35. But the ‘Bolts had just begun their comeback.
On the next trip down the floor, Burns picked Sanford’s pocket and hit an open Aselynn Gauna who automatically fired up an open three point shot. Boom! Gauna’s missile was followed by a Shipley free throw, and suddenly the score was more manageable at 29-35. With 44 seconds remaining in the stanza, sophomore Rylee Abert put a big-league fake on her defender then carefully cashed the open bucket to draw the ‘Bolts to within one at 39-40. After trailing the defending State Champs by 14 points, the Rye Ladies had outscored them 21-12 in third quarter.
With less than a minute gone in the final stanza, the T-Bolts took the lead when Lauritzen found a streaking Kaylee Rahl whose bucket in the paint put Rye on top for the first time since the game’s opening seconds. Already afraid to foul, the reversal had an immediate psychological affect on the Indians.
The score see-sawed through the last period’s middle minutes, but it was then that Danica Shipley’s poise and experience as one of 2A’s top players rose to the fore. With two minutes remaining and the score tied, sophomore Bailee Canty slammed her in the act of shooting. Stepping to the line with confidence, Danica buried them both.
The Indians maneuvered for a game-tying basket on the other end, still trailing by two with the OJC scoreboard clock showing less than one minute to go. When Sanford finally selected the shot they wanted, Danica Shipley leapt, extended and rejected the jumper, coming down with the ball herself. Seeing her way clear to the far basket, she immediately drove the length of the floor and laid the ball in for a 50-46 T-Bolt lead!
Managing just one of two free throws with 44 seconds left, Indian senior Tori Mortensen drew Sanford to within three. But with 37 ticks still on the clock and the foul count in double bonus, Sanford took a chance, nearly tackling seemingly untested Rye junior, Morgan Ortiz, sending her to the line for a pair. Always with a big smile on her face, Ortiz showed no signs of noticing the simmering pressure cooker she had just been dropped into. Morgan stepped to the foul line and casually cashed both free throws!
Ortiz’s charities were the cushion Rye needed. Even an Amber Edgar three-pointer seconds later could now only close the gap to 52-50. To their credit, the Indians found a way to get the ball back and fired up a final shot with three seconds showing that just missed its mark. Kaylee Rahl alertly came down with the rebound, the 52-50 score held up, and the Rye Ladies basked in the adoration of the Faithful as they accepted their Regional Championship hardware.