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Girls basketball: Centaurus beats Pueblo South in its return to the postseason

Freshman Laura Gensert scores 11 of her 16 points in the fourth

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    LAFAYETTE — Centaurus junior Julia Mischke drives the lane in the Warriors' first-round win over Pueblo South Tuesday, Feb. 25

  • Daily Camera file photo

    LAFAYETTE — Centaurus junior Julia Mischke shoots a 3 in the Warriors' first-round win over Pueblo South Tuesday, Feb. 25

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    LAFAYETTE — Centaurus freshman Ava Patik scans the floor in the Warriors' first-round win over Pueblo South Tuesday, Feb. 25

  • Brent W. New/BoCoPreps.com

    LAFAYETTE — Centaurus freshman Laura Gensert takes the ball up the court in the Warriors' first-round win over Pueblo South Tuesday, Feb. 25

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LAFAYETTE — Led by a fearless freshman in the fourth quarter, Centaurus’ return to the postseason began with a comeback victory over the reigning Class 4A runner-up Tuesday night.

Laura Gensert scored 11 of her 16 points in the final frame and the No. 32 Warriors used a late surge to beat No. 33 Pueblo South 43-33.

The newbie shooting guard — one of six freshmen who’ve helped the turnaround at Centaurus following a five-win year last season — hit a pair of 3s in the opening minutes of the fourth to trim the lead to 29-28. Natalie Kramer then hit another to put the Warriors in front and Julia Mischke went 7-of-8 from the free throw line in the final 4:47 to help send them into the second round Friday.

The win served as the latest chapter for a young roster that boasts just two seniors. From here — it’s “house money” coach Chris Mischke said — as the Warriors travel to Colorado Springs Friday to face the top seed in the tournament, Sand Creek.

“We get to see where we’re at,” Mischke said. “See how much further we have to continue to grow and how much work we have to put into the offseason. This is house money at this point.”

Centaurus, thanks to a mighty freshman class, had 13 wins in the regular season and finished fourth in the 4A Northern League.

It opened the year with three losses in four games — two coming by three points or less. Then in league, it played conference-winner No. 6 Thompson Valley close twice, split with Longmont, and claimed the final first-round home game of the tournament thanks to back-to-back wins over Niwot and Northridge to close the regular season.

Tuesday’s win came against another program undergoing something of a cosmic shift. Pueblo South was the state runner-up the past three seasons under longtime coach Shannan Lane, who stepped down after 11 years at the helm. And in Year 1 without her, the Colts finished the season 11-13 and started on the road in the postseason for the first time in nine years.

Gensert, meanwhile, helped supply their ending.

The freshman’s fearlessness in the closing minutes wasn’t a surprise. For a player whose opening act to her high school career included 15 field goal attempts in a loss to Lewis-Palmer, and a debut season in which she led the team in scoring (13.8 PPG), she was clutch on the big stage.

Her 3 atop the perimeter in the opening seconds of the fourth ended the Warriors drought of 4:25 without a field goal. Her second of the quarter started an 8-0 run that put Centaurus up 33-29 with less than five minutes remaining.

“When I was getting off the bench in the fourth quarter, my coach said it was time to step up,” Gensert said. “He’s been saying that to me all year when I need to step up. That kind of pushed me to go into it and just say ‘whatever happens, happens’. But I’m going to do it trying my hardest while being a good team player.”

Coach Mischke called the win “mucky” afterward — something a young team likely needs to do at times, he said. But on Friday, it probably will have to find another way.

Sand Creek, out of the 5A/4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference, has a nice mix of experience and young talent with third-year starter Nikki Derrell leading four scorers averaging double figures.

Centaurus will come in averaging about 30 points less per game than the classification’s leading scorers (72.1-42.9). Among other things, pulling off a monstrous upset will take another impressive defensive stand from a team that allowed 50 or more points just four times this season.

“I know they like to run, like to pressure, a drive and kick team,” Mischke said. “We’re going to have to hope they don’t hit a lot of shots. They’re the No. 1 team in the state. I have six freshman in the rotation. It’s going to be a learning experience.”