LITTLETON -- The Denver Nuggets have logged more miles but at least they've played eight home games.
A few weeks into the season the Monarch girls basketball team has yet to play in front of a friendly crowd.
"It's been a tough road," Coyotes coach Chris Lewis said.
It got even tougher against fourth-ranked Mesa Ridge on Thursday. The Coyotes didn't hit a bucket in the first quarter but were still within six points late in the third. The shooting woes finally caught up with them and they fell to the Grizzlies 53-34 in the first round of the Memorial Hoopla Tournament at Heritage High School.
"I don't know what our shooting percentage was, it wasn't very good, and sometimes it kills you against a team like that," Lewis said.
Mesa Ridge had a significant size advantage -- freshman Kylee Shook is 6-foot-4 and junior Samantha Rudd is 6-1 -- but it didn't deter the Coyotes from going inside. They attacked the taller Grizzlies, and it paid off when Shook and Rudd picked up three fouls apiece midway through the second quarter.
By then Monarch (2-3), which missed all eleven field goals in the first quarter, started hitting shots. Ellie Dietz and Raegen Rohn scored on consecutive possessions to cut a 13-point deficit to nine.
"We need to take a learning experience because we're going to be outsized in most of the games we play," senior Bridget Anthony said.
The Coyotes seemed to learn a lot at halftime. Trailing by 11, Anthony hit three straight shots and a free throw to cut the lead to 32-26 with 5:31 left in the third.
"At the beginning they were effective at blocking our shots but we made some adjustments," Anthony said.
They had a chance to get closer but couldn't convert on their opportunities.
That's when the Grizzlies found their offense. Gabby Prunell hit a shot and Ifti Dunne drained two jumpers to put Mesa Ridge ahead 40-26 heading into the fourth.
"I thought we were very effective in the middle of the third quarter and then they pressed us a little more and it didn't work out," Lewis said.
The Coyotes play Montebello in the consolation finals at 4:30 p.m. Friday and then finish the tournament Saturday afternoon. When they return from the holiday break they play their first home game, Jan. 8 against Front Range League rival Boulder.
Lewis hopes the rough early schedule pays off.
"It's tough to start the first half of your season on the road, but games like this will build us for the better in the second half."
Mesa Ridge 53, Monarch 34
MESA RIDGE (6-0)
Dunne 6 0-0 14, Shook 6 0-0 12, Purnell 4 2-5 11, Jackson 4 0-0 8, Gatzke 2 0-0 4, Rudd 0 4-6 4. Totals 22 6-11 53.
Anthony 4 1-1 9, Rohn 3 1-2 8, O'Flannigan 1 5-6 7, Dietz 2 0-1 4, Cendali 0 4-6 4, Stimac 1 0-0 2. Totals 11 11-16 34
Score by quarters:
Mesa Ridge 12 18 12 11 -- 53
Monarch 4 15 7 8 -- 34
3-point field goals -- Mesa Ridge (3): Dunne 2, Purnell; Monarch (1): Rohn. Total fouls --Mesa Ridge 12, Monarch 11. Fouled out -- None. Technical fouls -- None.