Kame’s 31 not enough for Central
The Central High School girls basketball team left the court under the outstretched arms of the Warriors’ student body and a standing ovation.
Usually, the Warriors make their exit with a hop in their step and a smile on their faces, but Wednesday night at Central, they walked off the court with their eyes swollen by tears and knots in their stomachs.
The Warriors (21-4) had an off night and fell 59-43 to Heritage in the Sweet 16 of the Class 5A state playoffs.
“Last year against Arapahoe (in the Sweet 16), I said to them, ‘You have nothing to lose,’ ” Central coach Todd Dixon said. “They went out and played loose. This year being seniors who have never lost at home, I think they felt the pressure to win and did things out of the ordinary.”
Central’s home winning streak ended at 30 games.
“I couldn’t be any prouder of a team,” Dixon said. “They fought hard and never quit.”
The game had an electric playoff atmosphere with a full student section behind the No. 2 seeded Warriors.
The Warriors felt the magnitude of the game, which translated into a slow start. They missed open opportunities early in the first quarter, but got into a rhythm and finished the quarter on a 5-0 run to go into the second quarter down 12-11.
“In the first quarter I think we should have been way up,” Dixon said. “We missed some easy chances, got some easy turnovers but didn’t convert.”
The second quarter was controlled by senior Amy Kame. Heritage started to get things going offensively, but Kame matched the Eagles on every basket. Kame had 12 of the Warriors’ 15 points in the second quarter to give Central a 26-25 lead at halftime.
“In the first half we had a lot of breakdowns and she had 19,” Heritage coach Ron McClurg said. “Amy’s a great player and we couldn’t leave her.”
Dixon said he was disappointed to not be ahead by more than one point at halftime.
“I thought in the first half we were a much better team,” he said. “There were some opportunities where we could have pushed the lead to 10-12 points, and that would have made a difference.”
The Warriors could have used a larger cushion, because Heritage came out motivated in the third quarter. The turning point came with five minutes remaining when a deep 3-pointer by Lauren Huggins gave the Eagles a 36-28 lead.
Central had trouble finding any kind of balanced scoring all night, especially in the third quarter. Kame scored all seven of the Warriors’ third-quarter points despite being double-teamed.
“We spent all week talking about playing good defense and helping on Amy,” McClurg said. “If she was going to score 40, we’d be done.”
The Warriors cut the lead to 40-35 early in the fourth quarter, but let the game slowly slip away by not being able to get defensive stops.
Down the stretch, Heritage put the game away with free throws, making 14 of 21 in the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t finishing shots and there were some things that were forced, but they played well enough to win,” said Kame, who finished with 31 points. “You have to give them credit for that.”
Heritage had four players in double figures, led by Sullivan Ziegler’s 16 points.
Dixon, in his second year at Central, said the team relit his fire for coaching.
“They finished such a strong stint here,” Dixon said. “They are sorrowful that it ended like this, but it’s been a great experience.”