3rd-quarter run lifts Lutheran past Paonia at state tourney
PUEBLO — Playing with heart and determination wasn’t enough for the Paonia High School girls basketball team to capture a win Thursday.
Chandler Sturms and Kaleigh Paplow scored 20 and 12 points, respectively, vaulting top-ranked Lutheran to 54-37 victory over the Eagles in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.
Lutheran (22-1) used an electric 20-7 third-quarter spurt to pull away from the pesky Eagles.
“The main thing is I just feel like we had some missed assignments,” Paonia coach Scott Rienks said about what transpired in the third quarter. “The effort was there. We probably should not have been as close as we were. Lutheran has been dominant all year long. The only loss they have was to Holy Family (56-40), and they are the No. 1-ranked team in 3A.”
Paonia’s record dropped to 19-6, and the Eagles fall into the consolation bracket where they will face perennial power Akron (20-5) at 8:45 a.m. today. Akron lost to Meeker 52-47 earlier Thursday.
In the first two quarters, the Eagles were hanging tough, trailing just 24-16, thanks to 10 points from Carson Pipher.
“We weren’t surprised by Paonia’s effort and their execution,” Lutheran coach Mark Duitsman said. “At half we just thought half of their points came against the press, and common sense said just take the press off.”
The Lions did stop pressing, and things got worse for Paonia.
Sturms paced Lutheran with five points, and Paplow and Lexi Knutson added four points each during the Lions’ third-quarter barrage.
“We eliminated their easy buckets and made it a half-court game, and we extended our lead,” Duitsman said.
Despite trailing 44-23 after three quarters, Paonia kept battling but could never put a dent in Lutheran’s lead.
“As a coach you are always disappointed when you lose, but I couldn’t ask for more effort than I got from the girls,” said Rienks, who guided Paonia to the Class 2A state title in 2010.
If competing against Lutheran wasn’t daunting enough, Thursday was the first game the Eagles were playing without their starting shooting guard Braiden Clement. The senior suffered a torn ACL in her right knee when she was fouled with 5.4 seconds left in Paonia’s regional final win over Ridgway 47-42.
“When that happened, that really hurt us emotionally,” Rienks said. “But, these kids just laid it out there, and we battled, and I’m proud of them.”
Paonia’s Morgan Hartigan had a team-high 14 points and Pipher finished with 10.