LONGMONT — Games haven't come easy for the Longmont girls basketball team this week, losing 59-56 to the Thompson Valley Eagles on Tuesday and 43-37 to the Silver Creek Raptors on Wednesday.
Against another rival Friday night, the Trojans saw a nine-point lead cut down to two by the Niwot Cougars with less than 90 seconds remaining. This time, however, Longmont found a way to answer the call and came out on top with a couple of plays late to win 38-31.
"This being a rivalry, it puts more excitement in getting the win," Longmont's Annika Wetterstrom said. "After coming off two losses that were close games, we were more focused and wanted it more tonight."
More importantly, the win keeps Longmont in the hunt to qualify for the Class 4A state basketball tournament with two weeks left in the regular season. The Trojans entered the game ranked No. 47 in the CHSAA RPI standings, making them one of the last two teams in the 48-team bracket. The week's earlier losses dropped them a number of spots.
By sitting on the bubble, the team is fighting for their playoff hopes every single time they step on the court the rest of the season.
"If we beat Silver Creek, we might have jumped to as high as No. 39, but that's how tight it is right now with those bottom eight to 10 teams," Longmont coach Wade Kingsbury said. "Our conference played a pretty tough out-of-conference schedule for us. A lot of us have below .500 records, but we're better than what our records show."
Friday's game was of utmost importance to the Cougars as well with them sitting No. 57 in the RPI and looking to avenge a 47-46 overtime loss to the Trojans back on Jan. 11.
Lily Sieben hit a couple of shots from 3-point range to give Niwot the 8-6 lead after the first quarter, but the Trojans' Wetterstrom, who was scoreless and playing more a facilitator role in the first, became aggressive in the second looking for her shot and was rewarded with seven points. Her production and strong team defense that forced multiple turnovers gave the Trojans a lead they would never relinquish in the game.
"There was better energy on defense and we got out and got easy looks on the other end," Kingsbury said of the second quarter.
Kingsbury saw his team go up by nine early in the fourth quarter but were not able to pull away for the easy win. Instead, Niwot responded with an 8-2 run with free throws from Bitzy Archibald and Nikki Simms after drawing fouls against the Trojans' defense. Marlow Baines hit a couple of shots in the paint to keep the Longmont lead at two entering the final 90 seconds of the game.
Wetterstrom answered the run with a layup and two big free throws to stretch the slim lead in the final minute. A steal and layup from Sally Marshall off the bench was the final nail in the coffin to lift Longmont.
"All of our games have been down to the final stretch and super close," Wetterstrom said. "We know how to play under pressure at this point. I was glad we turned around and got the win this time."
Wetterstrom led all scorers with 15 points and came one rebound short of a double-double. Eight different players also scored for the Trojans.
Sieben led the Cougars with eight and Archibald scored all seven of her points from the free throw line.
With four games remaining, every win could see Longmont make a rise in the RPI and sit in better position for a playoff spot, while every loss could put them in danger of missing out.
"Every game is important," Kingsbury said. "We come back against Centaurus on Tuesday, who we were tight with the first time there until the final three or four minutes. It kind of is playoff mode every night for us."
Longmont 38, Niwot 31
At Longmont High School
NIWOT (6-13, 3-7)
Lily Sieben 2 2-2 8, Bitzy Archibald 0 7-10 7, Marlow Baines 3 0-0 6, Nikki Sims 1 2-2 4, Elise Crall 0 3-4 3, Mackenzie Demmel 1 0-0 2, Brynn Beaton 0 1-2 1. Totals 7 15-20 31.
LONGMONT (8-11, 6-4)
Annika Wetterstrome 6 2-4 15, Shalee Gray 2 3-5 7, Sara Wormke 2 0-0 4, Tanna Carson 1 2-2 4, Ashley Dillow 1 0-0 2, Jordynn Lee 1 0-0 2, Sally Marshall 1 0-0 2, Emmelia Ashton 0 2-4 2. Totals 14 9-16 38.
Score by quarters:Niwot (6-13, 3-7) 8 4 8 11 — 31
3-point field goals — Niwot(2): Sieben 2; Longmont(1): Wetterstrom. Total fouls — Niwot 16, Longmont 20. Fouled out — Sims.