ERIE — Pueblo South boys basketball had just one shot to take down Erie in a late-game thriller on Thursday night.
The eighth-seeded Tigers, who hosted the No. 9 Colts in the Class 4A round of 16, missed free throw after free throw in the final seconds as they managed to keep a slight lead, as they had all game.
The Colts tied the game up at 72 with just 17 seconds left. With seven seconds remaining, Erie’s Kevin Loy sunk a layup but missed the and-1. The Colts sprinted to the other end of the floor and lobbed up a long 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Take it to the bank.
The Tigers fell, 75-74, in dramatic fashion in the Sweet 16 — not how they imagined losing just their third game back from a COVID-19 disruption.
“We had the game in the bag and we just blew it,” senior point guard Cole Rademacher said. “We knew we could have beaten them but it didn’t happen. We let them get to the best of us. They played way better than us.”
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Tigers enjoyed double-digit performances from four boys, emphasizing the true team nature of the final effort. Junior small forward Kayan Hargrave lit up the court with 18 points, followed by senior twins Cole Rademacher (17) and Tristan Rademacher (13), and Kevin Loy (13).
The Tigers led by 18 points near the start of the fourth quarter, but the Colts came roaring back with steal after steal, basket after basket.
The final score was their only lead of the entire game.
The Tigers entered the matchup firing on all cylinders. Throughout much of the first quarter, the Colts couldn’t match their hosts’ intensity, falling behind by as much as 13 points thanks to a strong Erie defense in the paint, which inhibited Pueblo South’s shot selection. The Colts ended the frame with a 25-14 disadvantage.
That didn’t last long.
Pueblo South reemerged in the second quarter also reinvigorated. The Colts stormed back, igniting an 11-0 run that left the Tigers playing catch-up. For a brief moment, the Colts tied the game up at 27 and then 30, but that was all the motivation that Erie needed to kick it back into gear.
The hosts ended the half with a run of their own to build their lead back up to 39-31.
The second half saw the same heightened level of play on both sides of the ball, especially as Erie transformed itself into a triple threat. They drained five 3-pointers, four in succession, to keep the charging Colts at a somewhat comfortable distance. At the end of the third quarter, the Tigers led by a 14-point margin, 56-42.
In the final frame, the Tigers brought the fire and wore the Colts out. They built up as much as a 68-50 lead.
But Pueblo South wasn’t done yet.
The Colts spent the next few minutes harassing the Tigers on defense and taking advantage of every mistake that Erie made. They came back with a fury that the Tigers couldn’t match.
In the end, it was too much for Erie.
“I love these guys,” first-year head coach Jimmie Lucero said. “I can’t be more proud. I told them that it doesn’t matter, win or lose, they leave it all out there. It’s fine. It’s the way we lost; it’s not like us to wilt under pressure like that. Having an 18-point lead with six minutes to go, that’s not who we are. That’s never been who we are.”
Erie girls hoops demolishes Palmer Ridge
4A’s No. 7 seed on the girls side, Erie followed up the boys with a thunderous win over No. 10 Palmer Ridge, 66-38.
Junior guards Grace Moyers and Deb Altshuler carried the Tigers with impressive performances as they scored 23 and 17 points, respectively. The Bears couldn’t keep up with that type of production.
Although the ladies kept it close throughout the first quarter, the Tigers managed to gain some separation in the second frame.
Then they blew it open in the third with a 51-25 advantage.
Throughout the fourth quarter, no matter how much the Bears fought back, they couldn’t outplay Erie, who dominated until the end. The Tigers advance to the Great 8 to take on No. 2 Green Mountain on Monday.
“It feels really good, especially since we got knocked out last year in the Elite 8,” Moyers said. “I think we were just starting to click in terms of playing well together and finding that chemistry. We just found it late in the season and I’m glad that we did because we’re looking good right now.”