LONGMONT -- The most immediate postseason challenge for the Longmont girls basketball team wasn't making sure it didn't overlook a first-round matchup that, on paper and in reality, was a colossal mismatch.
No, the challenge begins now for the Trojans, who opened the Class 4A state tournament on Tuesday with a thorough 65-18 victory against Vista PEAK. The Trojans must rebound from what essentially was an uncompetitive laugher from the opening tip to take on a far more demanding opponent far from the confines of home.
The fifth-seeded Trojans (15-9) will face fourth-seeded Delta in a second-round game Friday at Pueblo West.
"We talked about being focused and playing hard even though the opponent wasn't the greatest,"
"It's so hard to play against that caliber and switch gears and play a team like Centaurus or Broomfield or Thompson Valley. And that's the type of team that we've got Friday against Delta. They went undefeated in their league and will be a handful. The next two days in practice are going to be key."
Vista PEAK, which finished the season with a 3-21 mark, received its postseason bid through the back door.
The Aurora-based Bison play in the Colorado 7 League, which is designated for six automatic playoff berths. The wild card, however, was Ponderosa, which dropped down into Class 4A this season but still competes in the Continental League, arguably the toughest 5A conference in the state.
If Ponderosa had managed to finish at least eighth in the 12-team Continental League, it would have grabbed the final automatic bid out of the Colorado 7 League. That didn't happen, making Vista PEAK one of the most unlikely 4A state qualifiers in recent memory.
While that may not seem fair to teams such as Canon City, which missed the postseason despite a 15-8 overall mark out of the South Central League, or, more locally, Skyline, which narrowly missed an automatic berth out of the Tri-Valley League, the postseason appearance was a boon to the Bison. Vista PEAK is a first-year varsity program with a roster comprised entirely of freshmen and sophomores.
"Each game in the state tournament is a new game," Longmont senior Gabriella Fallon said. "Any team's record, you can't look at that. It's basically about the team that's going to go out there and show up to play. Going into Friday, we just need to have two great practices with a lot of focus and intensity."
Longmont led 7-0 after 50 seconds had passed and eventually built a 24-0 lead before the Bison finally got on the board with 6 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the first half. The Trojans remained consistent throughout, scoring between 15 and 18 points in each quarter while 11 different players etched their names in the scoring column.
Anna Schell, who got the Trojans started by hitting three consecutive jumpers in the first quarter, and Madi Gaibler paced Longmont with 10 points apiece.
"Most of our focus has been on the game on Friday, so we just had to come out and play our best," Schell said. "I feel like we came out as strong as we could. These next two practices have to be the best and most focused we've had all year."
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Longmont 65, Vista PEAK 18
At Longmont HS
VISTA PEAK (3-21)
Kennedy 2 2-2 8, Baker 0 0-0 0, Doherty 2 0-0 5, Carter 0 1-2 1, Johnson 0 0-2 0, Paul 1 0-0 2, Johnston 0 0-0 0, Rhone 1 0-0 2, Fifita 0 0-2 0. Totals 6 3-8 18.
Fallon 1 3-4 5, Wetterstrom 3 1-2 7, K. Schell 2 0-0 5, A. Schell 4 0-0 10, Pane 3 0-0 6, Gaibler 5 0-1 10, Carney 1 0-0 2, Johnson 2 0-0 4, Tulenko 2 0-2 4, Cox 3 0-2 6, Hamm 2 2-4 6. Totals 28 6-15 65.
Score by quarters:
Vista PEAK 0 4 8 6 -- 18
Longmont 18 16 15 16 -- 65
3-point field goals -- Vista PEAK (3): Kennedy 2, Doherty; Longmont (3): A. Schell 2, K. Schell. Total fouls -- Vista PEAK 9, Longmont 10.