Cordova lifts undefeated Rifle Bears into Class 3A Great 8
RIFLE — Putting a shaky first quarter behind it quickly Saturday afternoon resulted in the Rifle High School girls basketball team reaching the Class 3A state tournament in its first year in the classification.
Behind a game-high 23 points from senior Courtney Cordova, all of which came in the final three quarters, the unbeaten Bears clamped down defensively and had an offensive explosion in the final three quarters on their way to a 42-24 regional championship victory over Manitou Springs.
“This feels great,” said Rifle coach Stephanie Heald only a few minutes after cutting down the net at the Rifle High School gym. “I knew these girls were great at the beginning of the season and that they were going to do something special this year. They’ve proven that.
“But there’s still work to do. We’ve got one more week, and we can do it.”
The victory sent the Bears (24-0) into the tournament’s Great 8 at Moby Arena in Fort Collins. Rifle plays Eaton, a 53-32 winner Saturday against Peak to Peak, in Thursday’s state quarterfinals.
Saturday’s win was a little bit of redemption for Rifle, which dropped down to Class 3A this season one year after coming one win away from reaching the Class 4A quarterfinals.
“It felt bad because we didn’t play as hard as we could have and it ended up being our last game last year,” Cordova said of the Bears’ 64-54 second-round loss to Cheyenne Mountain. “We’ve basically told ourselves that if we’re going to make it anywhere this year, we have to play hard every game. That’s what we’ve done.”
The Bears turned up their intensity up a notch in the second quarter, holding the Mustangs (17-7) scoreless for the final 3 minutes, 32 seconds and outscoring them 16-3 in the final eight minutes. That came after Manitou held Rifle without a field goal for the first 7 minutes to take an 8-4 lead.
“We knew what we were up against when we came in,” Mustangs coach Brian Brown said. “I think we caught them off guard. We didn’t play very well the night before (a 51-44 first-round win against Denver School of Science and Technology on Friday).
“Maybe Rifle was a little overconfident as it turned out, but we caught them quick. We did a couple of nice things in our offensive sets that we didn’t show last night, and that worked well.
“But after that,” Brown said, “we really struggled getting the ball to fall for us.”
Manitou led 6-0, shutting out Rifle until Haydn Holgate’s free throws got the Bears on the board with 4:37 on the clock. Cordova, who was shut out in the first quarter, sat on the bench for the final 2:10 of the quarter after picking up her second foul.
She helped Rifle take the lead in the second quarter, however, as the second of her two three-point plays gave the Bears a 16-11 lead with 2:30 left before halftime. That also helped get Rifle’s transition game going again, with Rifle’s press forcing 11 Manitou turnovers in the first half and preventing any open looks for the Mustangs near the paint.
Even after Manitou pulled within 20-15 on a jumper from Natalie Schofield with 58 seconds elapsed in the third quarter, a pair of 3s and a layup from Cordova pushed the Bears’ lead to 13. The Mustangs were limited to 9-of-45 shooting (20 percent) from the field and finished even worse at the free-throw line, hitting only 4 of 22 shots (18 percent).
“They scored eight points in the first three minutes,” Heald said. “In the rest of the half, they scored three. That’s great for us.”
Erika Yost’s seven points and six-point outings from Amelia Schofield and Calla Urban paced Manitou Springs, which limited Rifle to 11-of-41 shooting (27 percent). Jasmine Figueira pulled down nine rebounds, and Racheal Keithley had a game-high 12 boards and six points. All of her points came from the free-throw line, with Rifle shooting 75 percent (18 of 24) from the line.