HIGHLANDS RANCH — From the time they arrived as freshmen, Denali Pinto and Ashley Panem have been starters on the Fairview girls varsity basketball team and catalyzed an outstanding four-year run for the Knights.
With the duo of Panem and Pinto in the lineup, the Knights have reached at least the Class 5A Sweet 16 at the end of each of their four years in high school. That incredible run concluded on Tuesday night with a 74-39 loss to No. 5 Highlands Ranch that ended the 12th-seeded Knights' season in the their third consecutive Sweet 16 and capped the prep careers of two of the program's most decorated players.
Even with the loss fresh in his mind postgame as the Knights trickled out of the visiting locker to a cheering group of parents and classmates, head coach Rod Beauchamp couldn't help but look back fondly at what his Knights were able to do with those two seniors leading the way.
"Those two have played with me since they were freshmen and just having watched their growth from the time they were little made this a really special season," Beauchamp said. "Those two girls have started all four years and they have been huge four us the entire time they've been here. The other seniors are a great group and we fell short of some goals this season but we did a lot of good things this season, too."
Having won their last 11 games, the Knights (19-6) faced an uphill battle against a Falcons (21-4) team that has only lost twice in the state of Colorado this season.
Clearly outsized, the Knights did their best to keep pace by hitting shots from the perimeter. They opened the game shooting 2 for 2 from long range and had the game tied 8-8 in the first quarter before the Falcons went on an 14-0 run to finish out the first frame. As the Falcons continued to pile up the second-chance baskets and themselves heat up from the perimeter, they began to pull away even further and led 40-20 at halftime.
"They just crushed us on the board and had a lot of second shots," Beauchamp said. "We had a tough time rebounding. But they're a very good team and I felt we did a good job getting back in transition because they usually get a lot of buckets in transition. Offensively, we just struggled to put the ball in the bucket with the matchup zone that they run."
The Falcons continued to build their lead even during the Knights' 14-point third quarter, their best of the game, and closed out the game by holding the Knights to five points in the fourth.
Pinto (18.5 ppg) and Panem (16.4 ppg), who reached the Great 8 as freshmen, combined for 23 points. Panem will play basketball at Florida Gulf Coast next season and Pinto will play at Colorado School of Mines.
The Falcons, who have four players averaging double figures this season, were paced by 27 points from junior Autumn Watts (16.7 ppg). Highlands Ranch will play No. 4 Grandview in the Great 8 on Friday.
Highlands Ranch 74, Fairview 39
At Highlands Ranch H.S.
Richmond 0 0-0 0, Collins 0 0-0 0, Englund 0 0-0 0, Pinto 4 4-4 12, Munson 3 0-0 8, Valdez 0 0-1 0, Konstantopoulos 0 0-0 0, Panem 4 0-0 11, Lampert 3 2-2 8. Totals 14 6-6 39.
HIGHLANDS RANCH (21-4)
Muma 3 0-0 9, Bain 2 0-0 6, Olson 5 3-4 15, Humbarger 1 0-0 2, Watts 12 3-4 27, Neubert 6 1-2 13, Martinez 0 0-0 0, Beck 1 0-0 2. Totals 30 7-10 74.
Score by quarters:Fairview 812145—39
Highlands Ranch 22181616—74
3-point field goals — Fairview (5): Panem 3, Munson 2; Highlands Ranch (7): Muma 3, Bain 2, Olson 2. Total fouls — Fairview 10, Highlands Ranch 13. Fouled out — Neubert.