NIWOT — Late in the fourth quarter, when freshman Amberlyn Purcell banked in a layup, the Erie girls basketball team seemed to have sewn up its season opener.
After all, a 10-point lead against a Niwot team that had managed just 16 points over the previous 21 minutes should have been insurmountable.
But the Cougars found an offensive rhythm, and with 10 seconds left were a steal away from a chance to tie. But a clutch free throw from Kenzie Kudrna and a missed desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Tigers a 39-36 win Friday night.
The game ended with Erie breathing a satisfied sigh of relief and the Cougars having something to build upon.
“It’s always disappointing to come out on the bottom end of it but to come back the way they did, they did a great job,” Niwot coach Clark Burton said. “I thought this was an outstanding performance, win or lose.”
The Cougars are trying to rebound from a year in which they were 3-19 and winless in the league. They nearly started off with a victory despite managing just 10 points in the second and third quarters combined.
Erie had a lot to do with that. The Tigers used tremendous ball pressure on Niwot’s young guards and forced more than 20 turnovers.
“We thought we could get away with putting pressure on them,” Erie coach Noel Potter said. “We were banking on it in this game.”
It worked for a while, and the Tigers appeared to have put it away when they built that 10-point lead with 3:18 left. But junior Callie Hensen scored seven of her game-high 12 points in the fourth quarter, the last of which cut Erie’s lead to 37-34 with 30 seconds left.
“We were starting to get tired as the game went along but we picked it back up to make it a close finish,” she said.
But in a game where the teams combined to shoot 31 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, the Tigers hit just enough of them to hold on and not foul at the end of the game.
“We were having some really bad foul trouble but overall we came through and worked on not fouling,” said Erie senior Piper Zeier, who had 12 points.
For the Cougars, who have struggled through a few tough seasons, coming close was disappointing but encouraging.
“We’re only going to get stronger,” Hensen said. “To have a game like this, it’s a really good start, especially considering Niwot’s basketball in the past.”
ERIE 39, NIWOT 36
At Niwot HS
Ochoa 4 4-13, 12, Zeier 5 2-6 12, Gallagher 2 1-3 5, Gudino 1 1-2 3, Kudrna 1 1-4 3, Campbell 1 0-0 2, Purcell 1 0-0 2. Totals 15 9-27 39.
Hensen 6 1-3 13, Montgomery 3 0-0 7, Pilewski 1 4-4 6, Enriquez 0 5-6 5, DiScipio 1 0-0 2, Sarosi 1 0-0 2, Larson 0 1-5 1, Sigg 0 0-3 0, Calvert 0 0-1. Totals 12 11-23 36.
Score by quarters:
Erie 13 6 8 12 — 39
Niwot 11 8 2 15 — 36
3-point field goals — Erie (0); Niwot (1): Montgomery. Total fouls — Erie 22, Niwot 22. Fouled out — Gudino, Ochoa. Technical fouls — None.