Fruita girls routed by Arapahoe

CENTENNIAL — It didn’t take very long Tuesday for Fruita Monument High School’s girls basketball team to realize it was in for a tough evening.

Facing top-seeded Arapahoe on its own floor, the Wildcats got off to a slow start in the Class 5A Sweet 16 state playoff and never recovered. The Warriors used a stifling full-court press to force 10 turnovers in the first quarter, and Fruita Monument didn’t connect for a field goal until the final two minutes of the first half. It all added up to a 78-32 victory for Arapahoe, which advanced to this weekend’s Great 8.

“We couldn’t get open, we didn’t hit shots, and we played a real good basketball team tonight,” Wildcats coach Richard Atkins said. “They moved the ball well, they shot the ball well, and they’ve been together a long time.”

Fruita Monument (18-7) fell behind by 16 points early and didn’t get on the scoreboard until Lauren LaBonde hit a free throw with 22.7 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Warriors (23-2) generated steals with their press and used their height advantage inside to attack the basket.

It was more of the same in the second quarter, with Fruita Monument having to rely on free throws to stay in the game. Sophomore Octavia Martinez finally knocked down a basket with 1:24 remaining in the half, but the Wildcats trailed 43-12 going into the locker room.

“I think we just got intimidated and weren’t confident with our own skills,” Fruita Monument senior Samantha Parks said. “No one really seemed to want the ball, so we threw it away a lot.”

Parks finished with a game-high seven points for the Wildcats, and Martinez added six.

Arapahoe showcased the balance that has paced the Warriors all season as 11 players scored at least two points. Reserve guard Alex Buechler led the way with 13 points, and Kera Riley added 11.

Atkins said his team needed to set more screens and move to get open, and it rushed too many shots. As for handling the press, the coach said his players reverted to some former habits.

“We went back to our old ways of trying to break the press with the dribble. We thought the dribble was going to be the answer, and we told them on numerous occasions that was not the way to do it,” Atkins said. “I think that was kind of the key.”

Arapahoe opened the second half with five consecutive baskets to push the lead to 53-12, but Fruita Monument did perform its best in the third quarter. The Wildcats finished the quarter with 16 points and knocked down three consecutive baskets at one point.

“I really told them, ‘You want to get back in the game, you’ve got to take shots,’ ” Atkins said. “We took some shots in the second half, but they didn’t fall for us. But we did at least take them, and we drove to the basket.”

The loss marked the final game for the team’s four seniors, who helped lead Fruita Monument to a share of the Southwestern League title and a berth in the Sweet 16.

“It’s been really great for everyone. We haven’t made it this far in a really long time,” Parks said. “This isn’t the way we wanted to go out, but at least we made it this far.”

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