Clutch Wildcat

Parks' late free throws help Fruita hold off Loveland

Fruita Monument’s Sam Parks makes one of her four free throws late in Friday’s 71-67 victory over Loveland in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs. Parks’ four free throws in the final 21.8 seconds allowed the Wildcats to survive the Indians’ fourth-quarter outburst and move on to the Sweet 16.

They knew it could not last.

Loveland High School’s girls basketball team has made many a team pay from the perimeter this season, but the Indians simply were not hitting much of anything from long range early in Friday’s Class 5A state playoff game at Fruita Monument.

In the fourth quarter, though, the shots did start falling. Fortunately for the Wildcats, they have Sam Parks.

The senior made four free throws and came up with a key offensive rebound in the final 21.8 seconds to help stave off a furious rally and escape the round of 32 with a 71-67 win over the Indians.

“You know, I’d been missing free throws earlier in the game, so I tried to block all that out,” said Parks, who finished with a team-high 19 points and 11 rebounds. “I just told myself, ‘I know how to make free throws. I can do it.’ “

And Fruita, which seemed to have the game in hand with a 51-29 lead after three quarters, needed those free throws in the worst way.

Loveland opened the fourth quarter on a 12-2 run to close to 53-41, forcing turnovers en masse behind an aggressive defense that gave the Wildcats no room to breathe.

The teams traded buckets for a spell before the Indians resumed their frenetic charge.

After a Kassidy Fair free throw made it 60-48 with 3:33 remaining, Loveland reeled off nine straight points, the final three on an NBA-range 3-pointer by Annika Anderson, which sliced the stunned home squad’s lead to 60-57 with 2:23 left.

Anderson kept on hoisting shots from way behind the 3-point line, connecting twice more down the stretch. Her 3-pointer with 32 seconds to go made it 66-64 and, with just under 10 seconds to go, she closed the gap to 68-67 with another long-distance shot.

But Parks and Fruita responded.

Fair hit one of two foul shots in a trip to the line with 4.9 seconds left. The second struck iron and bounced out to Parks, who reeled in a long rebound and drew a foul.

With 2.9 seconds left, Parks hit her free throws and, up 71-67, the Wildcats could finally exhale.

Inbounding from the far baseline with little time on the clock, Bradey King’s desperation heave at the buzzer missed its mark.

“When she made that last free throw, I told them, ‘Don’t touch anybody. Get away from everybody. They can score their 3,’ ” Fruita coach Richard Atkins said. “That’s all I cared about. Don’t make any kind of crazy plays.”

Although the Indians’ spirited charge gave him a scare, Atkins took pride in a big win for his program.

“I thought our kids maintained their composure,” he said. “When you have a good team like that, that shoots a lot of 3s, they started hitting them when they needed to. But our kids came back and played some pretty good defense, got some steals, got some easy baskets. I take my hat off to our team.”

Lauren LaBonde, who hit a pair of 3-pointers to help craft an 11-0 run to start the game, finished with 19 points. Fair added 10 points for the Southwestern League champion Wildcats (18-6), who travel to face Arapahoe (22-2) in the Sweet 16 on Tuesday.

“You know, we’ve never made it past the second round of the playoffs since I’ve been here,” Parks said. “This is really exciting for all of us, especially our seniors, to make it this far.”

Loveland (18-7) was led by Anderson’s 17 points. King finished with 13.

“I’m so proud of our girls and how hard they fought,” Indians coach Chris Michael said.  “They never quit. That’s all a coach can ask for at the end of the game.”


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