RIFLE, Colorado - So much for the size advantage the Thomas Jefferson High School girls basketball team had against Rifle on Tuesday. The Bears made it a point to play bigger all night against the Denver-based Spartans.
Three Rifle players finished in double figures on the boards. That, along with a combined 51 points from Chante Church and Joey Kuheim, lifted the Bears to a 62-33 victory in the first round of the Class 4A regional playoffs.
"I don't think I've ever had a team that's outrebounded an opponent by that much," said Rifle coach Rick Schmitz, who is in his third decade of coaching high school basketball. "Wow."
Rifle (16-5) outrebounded Thomas Jefferson (10-12) by a clip of 48-21. That came against a much bigger Spartans lineup, which had three players listed at 6 feet or taller compared to none for the Bears.
Not that it mattered. Kuheim finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds, with 10 of her boards coming in the second half. Church added a game-high 27 points with 11 boards, and Kimmie Rausin pulled down nine of her 11 rebounds in the first half.
"Oh my goodness," Kuheim said. "Coach is gonna be happy about that."
With the win, Rifle advanced to the regional semifinals at Montrose High School on Friday. The Bears will play Palmer Ridge (20-3), the region's No. 3 seed, for a spot in the Elite Eight of the 32-team state tournament.
Not that Thomas Jefferson didn't put up a fight. An 11-point performance from Cleora Koepke and Kelly Cordes helped keep the Spartans in it early on, but the Bears carried a big second-quarter run into the third stanza to essentially put the game away.
"Our defense didn't really pick it up early on," Church said. "Then we figured out they were aggressive, and we knew that once we picked our defense up that the ball would find the hoop."
It found the hoop for the Spartans early in the second quarter.
Thomas Jefferson rallied early in the second quarter, as a 3-pointer from Braelah McGinnis capped a 9-2 run to open the stanza and gave the Spartans a 17-13 lead with 5 minutes, 6 seconds left before halftime. That's when Kuheim and Church combined to come up big, scoring 16 points in the Bears 17-5 run over the remainder of the first half. A layup from McGinnis with 10 seconds left cut the Spartans' deficit to 30-22 just before halftime.
The Spartans closed to within six when McGinnis hit a layup to open the scoring in the second half. Rifle pulled away, however, as Jazmine Figueira's layup with five seconds remaining in the third quarter capped a 16-5 run and push.