Over the past four years of girls basketball in the Front Range League, Fairview and Fossil Ridge have consistently battled to some fantastic finishes against each other as top-tier state teams.
But of Fossil's 26 previous losses in that time (against 66 wins), the Knights had failed to finish on the winning end against the SaberCats.
Fairview senior Denali Pinto knew that all too well on Friday night.
In what could possibly be the final chance to play one of their nemesis teams, Pinto poured in 32 points, and Fairview's eight-girl lineup — which got smaller this week with the season-ending injury to Faith Anderson — fought their way to the finish in a wild 61-57 victory at FHS.
It was a brutal battle that saw some quizzical officiating calls for both sides, but the Knights led from early in the first quarter on to the finish to improve to 15-5 and 8-1 in league. Fossil Ridge's valiant comeback effort was matched by Fairview simply staying composed against a team that came in No. 4 in the Class 5A ratings percentage index.
"We were all looking forward to this game this entire week, and we practiced against the boys to get ready for the physicality and the intensity that we knew this game would be," said Pinto, who scored at least six points in each quarter in what was one of the area's best individual scoring efforts of the season. "This is the first time that Ashley (Panem) and I have beaten Fossil, and that was just a really fun win."
"So many players stepped up in different moments throughout this game," Fairview head coach Rod Beauchamp added, his team now alone in second place behind Horizon in the FRL. "We made the plays down the stretch when we needed to, and I'm just so proud of their effort."
Fairview's seventh consecutive win took more than just solid scoring from Pinto. It took rebounding — undersized Fairview had 34 boards to Fossil's 31 — and it took a couple of knock-down shots from the Knights' secondary scorers to grab the win.
Adaya Richmond's shot with 1:38 to go put Fairview up by nine points when it seemed the SaberCats had taken the air out of the gym. Izzy Munson had seven points, but hit three free throws in the fourth quarter and had a nifty inbound play to spring Pinto to a layup with 2:49 left that kept FHS ahead.
And then there was Ashley Panem, who was beat up all night but sunk nine of 10 free throws in the game and still managed 14 points.
"The whole key was for the entire team to stay composed, because we knew they would pressure, and we knew they had long arms and wanted to steal and run," Pinto said. "It took everyone to stay composed down the stretch."
It was no surprise that Fossil Ridge, which knocked off then No. 1 Highlands Ranch on January 6 and whose only 2018 loss came at CHSAANow.com's No. 2 ranked Horizon, would stage a huge rally in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Fairview led 41-31 with 1:52 left in the third, but Fossil Ridge scored seven straight points to cut it to 41-38 just 12 seconds into the fourth. Richmond knocked down a 3-pointer with 7:19 left, and Pinto drew fouls on made baskets at 6:28 and 4:58 to make it 51-42. The SaberCats got to the line four times in the next 2 minutes, including getting two free shots when Beauchamp was called for a technical foul at the 4:06 mark. At 4:02, a Kaysen Hobbs putback made it 51-50.
After Richmond made it 59-50, Fossil Ridge rebounded its way to seven more consecutive points. Panem hit a free throw with 18.5 seconds left, and then the Knights were able to essentially seal it with a Fossil turnover and one last free throw make for Pinto.
The SaberCats are deep, but holding Ashley Steffeck to just four points — the junior averages 12.8 a game — was crucial.
"They kept their composure when their coach didn't," Beauchamp said of his team. "I thought Ashley did a great job on (Steffeck). And Steffeck gets to get out and rest a bit while Ashley has to do it (defensively) for pretty much a full 32."
Fairview closes out the regular season at Rocky Mountain, at Loveland and against Greeley West — and if they win out could be looking at first and second home playoff games with the big boost in RPI.
Fairview 61, Fossil Ridge 57
At Fairview HS
FOSSIL RIDGE (14-5, 7-2)
Novak 1 0-0 2, Steffeck 2 0-0 4, Guzman 5 5-7 18, Barela 1 0-0 2, Zwetzig 3 0-2 6, Hadad 3 6-6 13, Lang 1 0-0 2, Hobbs 3 0-0 6, Dunn 2 0-0 4. Totals 21 11-15 57.
FAIRVIEW (15-5, 8-1)
Richmond 2 0-0 5, Collins 0 0-1 0, Pinto 12 7-9 32, Munson 2 3-4 7, Valdez 0 0-0 0, Konstantopolous 0 0-0 0, Panem 2 9-10 14, Lampert 1 1-2 3. Totals 19 20-26 61.
Score by quarters:Fossil Ridge1261821—57
3-point field goals — Fossil Ridge (4): Guzman 3, Hadad; Fairview (3): Richomond, Pinto, Panem. Technical fouls — Fairview coach.