LAFAYETTE — Dawson School girls head coach JR Sagner had plenty to say about the way the Mustangs ended their 2018-19 season with a defensive tussle against Heritage Christian on Saturday that left them just one game short of the Class 2A state tournament.
But, really, his thoughts could be summed up in one short phrase — one that he said with a smile on his face coming out of the post-game locker room.
"We can came out of here hoping just to realize the big picture, to know what we've accomplished, and know that next year our expectation is to come back to this same spot and we're going to go further," Sagner said.
What the Mustangs did accomplish this season — before a 41-29 loss in the Region 6 tournament — was achieve a program-tying 20 wins and a district championship — all with just two seniors on the team and headed by the first-year coach with a ton of energy and appreciation for the work his girls put in.
As a matter of fact, Dawson (20-4) is the only team this season to have beaten Heritage Christian Academy (23-1), and that happened just a week ago for that district championship. But a third meeting of the season against their Mile High League foes proved to be a mountain too tough too climb, or at least a slippery slope on the other side of the peak after a strong first-half performance.
Leading by as much as 17-6 with 4 minutes, 9 seconds to go in the second quarter, Dawson saw the Eagles improve their rebounding, hit two momentum-gaining buzzer-beaters and simply lock down on Dawson defensively to outscore the hosts 35-12 the remaining 20 minutes of game play.
Catherine Lacey's defensive efforts for HCA on Kaitlyn Day — who had 35 points in Friday's win over Sargent — were hard to ignore, and Emma Johnson had her say in keeping things tough in the paint, as well.
Dawson shot 11-for-42 for the game and only had four free throw attempts.
"Playing a team three times, you know each other well, and you should be pretty prepared especially when the last time was just a week ago," Sagner said. "Our kids are awesome and I didn't fault their effort.
"Our key to success today, (rebounding) was number one. There were times we did that well and times we didn't. And I don't know how many (second-chance) points we gave up off offensive putbacks, but it was a lot. I do know that."
The previous two meetings between the teams indicated scoring would be tough, but Dawson came out firing behind Madison Day to take a double-digit lead. Madison scored her team's first six points, and the Eagles didn't get on the scoreboard until there was 2:16 left in the first quarter.
Senior Kate Gallop's back-to-back field goals at 5:45 and 5:02 of the second quarter made it 14-6, and Kaitlyn Day followed with a 25-foot shot from the wing to make it 17-6.
To close out the half, Heritage Christian scored nine straight including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Kali Siemers. In the third, the contest was tied at 17-all and 25-all, but Lacey knocked down another buzzer-beater at the end of the third to give the Eagles their first lead.
Lacey drew a five-second call on Kaitlyn Day 1:52 into the fourth and followed that with another 3-pointer on the possession, and a nifty cross-over dribble drive with 5:06 left made it 33-25.
Dawson could not close the gap, and the Eagles ended up making 12 of 15 free throws in the game.
"I trust my teammates and am able to just play so close to her because I know if I get beat I am going to have so many of my teammates coming up to help," Lacey said of being able to play defense against Day. "The encouragement from them and my coaches, too. They just kept saying, 'she's a great player, she might have gotten you this time but there are five other times you stayed in front of her.'
"We have a lot of trust in each other and are able to stay calm."
Madison Day finished with 13 points to lead all scorers.
Gallop and Ruby Walker are the only seniors for Dawson.
"The fact we accomplished what we accomplished with me being new to them, I thought was pretty impressive," Sagner said.
Adam Dunivan: email@example.com or on Twitter: @AdamDunivan24
Heritage Christian 41, Dawson School 29
At Dawson School
HERITAGE CHRISTIAN (23-1)
Lacey 4 2-3 12, Siemers 2 1-2 6, Friedrich 4 1-2 9, Collins 0 4-4 4, Erikson 1 0-0 2, Brown 0 2-2 2, Kraft 0 0-0 0, Johnson 2 2-2 6. Totals 13 12-15 41.
DAWSON SCHOOL (20-4)
M. Day 4 4-4 13, K. Day 4 0-0 10, Gilio 0 0-0 0, Dunbar 0 0-0 0, Gallop 2 0-0 4, Timms 1 0-0 2, Walker 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 4-4 29.
Score by quarters:Heritage Christian 4 11 13 13 — 41
Dawson School 10 7 8 4 — 29
3-point field goals — Heritage Christian (3): Lacey 2, Siemers; Dawson School (3): K. Day 2, M. Day.