Strong 2nd half carries Meeker girls to victory
After a scary first half, the Meeker High School girls basketball team took the fright out of the Soroco Rams in the second half.
Behind the leadership and offensive skill of seniors Taylor Neilson and Aly Ridings, and the speed and hustle of junior Sydney Hughes, Meeker subdued a feisty Soroco team 49-37 in the 2A regional tournament in Palisade on Saturday.
The victory lifts the Cowboys (21-1) into the state tournament’s final eight in Pueblo this week.
After making the regional round the past three years and dropping the title game last year, Meeker was highly motivated to get the job done this season.
“This year, we were like, ‘We’re not coming home without it,’ ” Ridings said.
Neilson agreed, saying, “My teammates and I have been working toward this our whole lives. It feels amazing to finally get there.”
The Cowboys were led in scoring by Hughes, who had 16 points, with Ridings adding 13 points and Neilson 10.
Meeker rallied from a 17-10 deficit early in the second quarter to take a 24-22 lead at the half.
Meeker head coach Greg Chintala gave all the credit to Soroco (16-8) for the close first half.
“They battled. They played a fantastic game. They were causing us to miss shots, and they were making shots,” he said.
With Hughes playing tenacious defense and using her quickness to keep the tempo fast, the Cowboys started to pull away in the third quarter.
After Hughes made a steal, she passed to Ridings, who made a high-speed, left-handed layup on the fast break, and the Cowboys were in complete control. Ridings hit a jumper, followed by a 16-foot jumper from Neilson to push the lead to 33-26.
When Deena Norell turned an offensive rebound into a three-point play with one minute left in the third quarter, the lead was 38-26.
Hughes took a long rebound and went the distance for a layup to start the fourth quarter, bumping the lead to 13 points, and the Cowboys were preparing to punch their ticket to the Front Range.
Meeker’s win was the fourth over Soroco this season. The Rams came out undaunted by the past three losses and played a determined first half.
Hayley Johnson hit a 3-pointer to give the Rams their seven-point lead in the second quarter. Jessica Rossi, who scored five of her seven points in the first half, hit a bucket and two free throws to tie the score at 21-21.
But Meeker’s Reese Pertile sank three late free throws to give the Cowboys the lead at the intermission.
In a poetic end to the scoring for the Cowboys, Hughes darted in front of a defender for a steal and went the distance for a layup.
Chintala said he uses four keys to success for the Cowboys: “Effort, effort, execute and team.”
At halftime, he said he wasn’t too worried about the close game.
“I just told them, our effort is great, and we’re playing great as a team, so if we get that execution piece in there, that means more team, and we’ll be OK,” he said.
Meeker will now head to Colorado State-Pueblo’s Massari Arena for the 2A state tournament with a first-round game set for Thursday. The Colorado High School Activities Association will release the seeding for the tournament today.