With its once sizeable lead dwindling and in dire need of a win after two consecutive losses, Central turned to Nikki Madaris for some momentum.
The junior guard delivered just that Friday night.
Madaris' shooting and passing played a major role in Central's 13-1 run, one that blew open a two-point game late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, and helped the Warriors earn a much-needed 51-41 victory over reeling Palisade.
Madaris ended the evening with 15 points, eight during the decisive run for the Warriors (3-5).
"I think it was about teamwork," Madaris said. "We did what we were supposed to do, stayed disciplined and executed most of the plays we had drawn up."
It was an improved offensive performance for Palisade (2-8). The Bulldogs eclipsed the 40-point mark for the first time this season and got 23 points from sophomore Alexis Marushack, whose physical presence in the paint helped them stay in the contest throughout most of it.
Down 32-21 in the third quarter, Palisade went on a 9-0 run, largely thanks to Marushack. Her layup late in the quarter cut the Warriors' lead to 32-30.
That's when Madaris took over.
Madaris began Central's run by draining a 3-pointer to stretch the lead back to 36-30. Later, she found fellow junior Hannah Dexter down low for an easy basket, making it 40-31 after three quarters.
To start the final quarter, Madaris drained a pair of jumpers — one from the free-throw line and one from outside the arc — to give Central an insurmountable 45-31 lead.
Palisade was never able to get within 10 points from there.
"I thought Palisade played extremely hard," said Central coach Mary Doane. "I thought it was a well-fought, hard-played game. They got off the boards and made us have to be solid. It was a good, hard-fought game by both teams."
Despite finishing with 15 points, Madaris wasn't the leading scorer for Central. That distinction goes to sophomore guard Mya Murdock, who finished with 16 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Another key offensive weapon for Central was junior guard Hailey Black. She scored seven points and did all her damage early. She opened the game with a 3-pointer, followed by a layup, springing the Warriors to a quick 5-0 lead in a game in which they would never trail.
Central doesn't return to the court until January. Although a 3-5 record isn't an ideal way to go into the break, a win certainly is.
"I hope (the players) take some momentum into the break and hold on to it," Doane said. "With all the CHSAA rules and whether or not we can do anything, I hope it makes them feel good and they want to stay in shape and keep working. We've got a big one on Jan. 3 (against Pueblo County) right off the bat."
Central 43, Rifle 32: The Warriors (3-8) snapped a two-game losing streak, exploding for 19 points in the fourth quarter after scoring only 24 in the first three.
Caleb Davis led Central with 14 points. Isaac Cameron finished with eight points, with six of those coming in the final quarter.
Junior guard Trey Lujan scored more than half of Rifle's (6-2) points, finishing with 17. Adding eight more points was Omar Chavez.
Mullen 81, Fruita Monument 51: The Wildcats (7-4) fell hard against the host of the Mullen Christmas Classic in Denver. Fruita Monument found itself down 25-10 after one quarter, but cut the deficit to 41-30 at halftime. However, Mullen put the game away in the third quarter, outscoring the Wildcats 22-6.
Reilly Flinn led Fruita with 13 points and Ian Barnes added 12.