Meeker falls in 2A semifinals
PUEBLO — With a trip to the coveted state championship game within its grasp, the Meeker High School girls basketball team couldn’t seize the moment.
Instead, Chandler Sturms did.
The Lutheran junior calmly sank two free throws with 15.3 seconds remaining, vaulting the Lions to a dramatic 39-38 victory over Meeker on Friday night in a Class 2A state semifinal at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.
“I was really nervous, but we have practiced free throws a lot lately, so I had a little more confidence than usual,” said Sturms, who had not shot any free throws during the game before walking to the line for the 1-on-1 opportunity.
Lutheran (23-1) moves on to the state championship game at 5:30 p.m. today against Yuma (25-1). Yuma, which defeated Peyton earlier Friday, ousted Lutheran in the state semis a year ago before losing to Akron in the finals. Meeker dropped to 22-3 on the season.
Trailing 39-38, Meeker still had a chance to win.
Sydney Hughes dribbled down the middle of the lane, but the ball was knocked loose. An alert Aly Ridings grabbed the ball and went up for a 10-foot jumper on the left side.
Ridings’ shot bounced off the back of the rim with 1.6 seconds left, and Lutheran rebounded, securing the win for the Lions.
Greg Chintala, Meeker’s coach, was left to digest a heartbreaking loss for his team.
“We got the ball and we went to the hole,” Chintala said. “We thought they would foul us, and they didn’t, and we didn’t hit our shot.”
With 1:54 remaining in the game, Meeker appeared to gain control, taking a 37-32 advantage on Taylor Neilson’s two free throws. Neilson paced her team with 11 points.
Lutheran, however, didn’t quit.
Kayleigh Paplow, who had a team-high 15 points, made an inside bucket at the 1:29 mark to get Lutheran within 37-34.
Meeker’s Hughes stole a pass and was fouled with 48.5 seconds left, and she made one free throw to give her team a 38-34 edge.
Lutheran’s Kristen Vigil then answered with a huge 3-pointer from the left of the top of the key to cut the deficit to 38-37 with 38 seconds left.
On Meeker’s next possession, Ridings was fouled with 25.9 seconds remaining, but she missed two free throws, setting the stage for Sturms.
“Lutheran played hard, and I have the utmost respect for them, but I have more respect for these young ladies in my locker room,” Chintala said. “They are hurting right now, but they put everything out there. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”