EATON — Seven and a half seconds shone brightly on the Eaton High School scoreboard Friday night. Seven and a half seconds to try to pull off an upset in regulation.
“Back in Black” by AC/DC unironically blared over the speakers during the timeout that Peak to Peak head coach Joe Howard called to put together a game-winning play. His girls knew what they needed to do after sophomore Alexandra Eschmeyer tied the game with a free throw.
In a sea of red, the small section of black and blue fans had cheered the loudest toward the end of the game. They erupted when the 11th-seeded Pumas secured one final turnover to get possession, then felt nervously optimistic when nothing promising developed in those final ticks, securing overtime.
Again, they jumped up and down causing the bright-red plastic bleachers to rock, when Eschmeyer drained a 3-point dagger to take a one-point lead with 21 seconds left in the extra session.
But the sixth-seeded Reds had other ideas.
In the final seconds of her second-round Class 4A state tournament game, Eaton’s Leyah Scott lobbed up one last Hail Mary from just inside the arc at the top of the key.
She nailed it.
The Reds averted the upset in heart-pounding and hand-shaking fashion with a 47-46 final.
“I kept thinking, ‘I got to use this timeout that I have.’ But we kind of felt like they were just going to take care of business and take care of them,” Howard said. “They did. They made clutch plays, they stayed together and they stayed composed. They did everything we needed them to do. Eaton just made the last clutch play.”
That final shot from Scott ended a whirlwind season for the Pumas, who began the year with a 2-4 record before loudly forcing their way onto the 4A scene through an ultra-talented Metro League. They finished second in the stacked 4A/3A league with a 13-2 record, and Friday’s finale put them at 17-8 overall.
Only Colorado Academy, the No. 5 seed in the tournament, beat them out for the league title. Eschmeyer, of course, was the beating heart of that incredible run for a team that finished just 11-10 in 3A a year earlier, averaging 19 points per game, 13.7 rebounds per game and 4.7 blocks per game.
She blocked 11 shots and secured 20 boards against the Reds, then added 31 points to her totals to complete the triple-double. She dominated in every facet of the game, and didn’t shy away from contact even after the refs whistled her for her fourth foul.
The rest of the team took care of the ground game, even when the shots weren’t always falling and the turnovers plagued both offenses. Where the Pumas and Reds lacked in ball handling, they more than made up for it in rebounds, wild yet controlled passing, steals and suffocating defense.
Those factors were the ingredients needed to put together an exciting finish.
“We got grit, man. We’ll do it all,” said junior Megan Wagner, who finished the game with five points. “We’ve done it all season, and we’re going to keep it up next year. That’s how we play. That’s our game. Obviously, we wanted to win, but I’m proud of everyone’s effort. I think we all left it out there. But we’ll be back.”
The Pumas graduate just three players, but return each of the five ladies whose shots tickled the nylon on Friday night. If their emergence onto the 4A scene should say anything, it’s that the rest of the classification should fear them.
There’s a reason basketball fans don’t trust 11-6 matchups.
“They came such a far way. All of them,” Howard said. “We told them before the game that we just hope that they exit the game understanding that this is not their ceiling. This is not where they’re going to top out. This team has so much potential to keep improving and I think despite the results, we see that yep, this wasn’t our ceiling. We deserve to be here and we could have moved on.”