COLORADO SPRINGS — Those who have followed Class 5A girls basketball this season were well aware of the quick-as-a-switch scoring threat that the Fairview Knights were during the entire campaign.
Once again, that came into play for FHS on Tuesday night in the Sweet 16 round of the Class 5A playoffs against one-loss Doherty. A seemingly comfortable halftime lead for the host Spartans, the Colorado Springs Metro League champ, quickly turned into a scenario where DHS was clinging by a finger nail.
That's what Ashley Panem, Denali Pinto and Grace O'Neill could create when they and their teammates buckle down defensively.
But after what was an 18-point DHS lead was whittled down to three with plenty of time remaining to capture one of its most improbable wins of the season, the little things that got Fairview in a hole to begin with came back around and allowed Doherty to forge ahead to the 5A Great 8, 68-59.
It was a completely different second half for Fairview, one which more closely resembled the squad that won 21 games but officially finished 15-11 after having to forfeit six wins in January.
"We just couldn't get over that hump tonight, but this was a great group that continued to battle through adversity," Fairview coach Rod Beauchamp said. "Ultimately I feel like we were 21-5, and even though we fell short of a couple goals, we had a group of girls that were special. Our four seniors (O'Neill, Sydney Rios, Kelsey Webster, Lena Haddad) put in a tremendous amount of work this year."
After heading down Interstate-25 through a heavy band of snow to get to the game, Fairview was caught in a freeze to start the game. Doherty's full-court press forced 11 first-quarter turnovers and the Spartans were the quicker team on their feet as they raced out to a 23-9 first quarter lead.
That advantage grew to 42-24 by halftime, more through Doherty earning second chances with rebounds than Fairview miscues.
But the Knights clearly were inspired for the third quarter, outscoring Doherty 18-8 to get back in it, and when Pinto (18 points) hit a 3-pointer just 18 seconds into the fourth quarter, Fairview was right back in it at 50-45. Leading the third quarter barrage was Pinto (six points in the frame) and O'Neill (seven of her 21).
Doherty grabbed a 59-51 lead with 4 minutes, 14 seconds to go but Fairview once again cut it all the way to 59-56 by the 2:53 mark with a Panem 3-pointer and two Rios free throws.
However, in that final stretch Doherty relied on the driving capability of point guard Kalani Poloa (17 points), who found Aubriana Noti on a key inside basket with 1:09 left to put the game out of reach. Mixed in there were a couple more offensive rebounds for Doherty — they led on the glass 32-26 overall — and a foul from Rios that the officials determined was intentional as Fairview was in "fire" mode.
Noti's 16 points were accompanied by 12 rebounds.
"I thought we gave up way too many second shots in that first half, and just overall did not match their intensity to start," Beauchamp said. "We knew (Noti) was tough and we knew we needed to help each other on her. At the same time I thought we were positioned well a lot of times on her, got displaced and still ended up with our foul. "
"I think we were just a bit frazzled coming out of the gate. Of course we knew it was a big game and there was a lot on the line, but we just didn't come out focused," O'Neill said after posting a game-most 21 points to end her FHS career. "We made up for a lot of our mistakes in the second half, but it was just too little too late.
"We made a lot of memories this year."
Doherty 68, Fairview 59
At Doherty HS
Rios 0 2-2 2, Pinto 7 3-7 18, Munson 1 0-0 2, O'Neill 5 10-12 21, Prostko 0 0-0 0, Panem 5 3-4 15, Lampert 0 1-2 1, Webster 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 19-27 59.
Poloa 4 7-10 17, Minniss 5 3-4 13, Mack 2 0-0 5, Amparan 0 2-2 2, McBride 4 1-2 9, Semadeni 0 0-0 0, Gainey 2 1-2 6, Noti 7 2-4 16. Totals 24 16-24 68.
Score by quarters:Fairview 9 15 18 17 — 59
Doherty 23 19 8 18 — 68
3-point field goals — Fairview (4): Panem 2, Pinto, O'Neill; Doherty (4): Poloa 2, Mack, Gainey.