Titans lock up regional berth
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
PEACH VALLEY, Colorado – Of all things to serve as motivation, a tasty hotel buffet loomed in the minds of Coal Ridge’s girls basketball players as they took the court in Wednesday’s 3A Western Slope League district tournament opener.
Actually, pride was a much bigger source of motivation, but a running continental breakfast joke has long been circulating through the Titans’ locker room.
“We all make a joke about how when we go to regionals, we all love eating continental breakfast,” Coal Ridge senior Ashlie Bowles joked.
Bring on the orange juice and stale Cheerios.
Bowles and her teammates assured themselves of a trip to the regional round of the state playoffs with a 55-46 win over visiting Grand Valley on Wednesday.
The Titans will face Olathe at 3 p.m. in Friday’s semifinals at Palisade High School. They’ll head west with a top-five tourney finish and, consequently, a playoff berth all locked up.
Bowles would gladly trade a hotel stay and continental breakfast feast for a chance to host. If Coal Ridge can win out in Palisade, that would be the case. District winners serve as regional hosts.
“It’s good going in with a safety net, but we still want to go in with a higher seed,” Bowles said. “Last year, we were 27 and we want to exceed that and exceed our coach’s expectations and win our next game. Then maybe we can host.”
Early on against the Cardinals, the Titans’ semifinal hopes looked bleak.
Shooting at a 6-for-13 clip from the floor and hitting all four of its free throws, Grand Valley took an 18-9 lead after a quarter.
Everything fell for the Cardinals in that opening quarter. They even converted a rare four-point play, with freshman Ashlynn Speakman drawing a foul while connecting on a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left.
“You know, I thought our first quarter was about as well as we could play,” Grand Valley coach Mike Johnson said.
But the second quarter proved as kind to the Titans as that first quarter was to the Cardinals.
With its defense producing steals that led to easy buckets, Coal Ridge caught fire. A 7-2 run capped by a Chasity Gonzales 3-pointer brought the Titans to within 20-18 at the 5:50 mark.
Shawnee Young responded with a 3 to extend Grand Valley’s lead before Coal Ridge closed out the half with a 7-0 run to take a 25-23 lead into intermission.
“We just knew we had to come out hard, which we did,” Titans senior Carly Cloninger said. “Coach basically said it’s up to us and we needed to prove it. We just came out hard.”
The 6-foot Cloninger was a tough matchup for the Cardinals. She led all scorers with 16 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.
“Carly had an outstanding game on the boards,” Coal Ridge coach Rick Schmitz said. “That was big.”
Always staying a bucket or two ahead of Grand Valley, the Titans never relinquished the lead in the second half. They put the game away at the foul line down the stretch, hitting at a 7-for-8 clip at the stripe in the fourth quarter.
Beyond Cloninger, three other Titans reached double figures in scoring. Ashlie Bowles poured in 12 points, Gonzales 11 and Paige Ryan 10.
Gonzales hit a momentum-gaining 3-pointer early in the fourth that triggered a raucous response from the crowd and gave Coal Ridge a 37-32 lead. It was her third triple of the night.
“We had a lot of guys stepping up,” Schmitz said. “That’s who we are this year.”
Schmitz’s squad will take a 14-6 record into Friday’s semifinal against Olathe, which improved to 17-3 with a 56-32 win over Roaring Fork on Wednesday.
Grand Valley, which was led by Speakman’s 14 points, will host Roaring Fork in tonight’s consolation semifinals at either 6 or 7 p.m.
Young, who knocked down four 3-pointers, finished with 12 points for the Cardinals (7-13) on Wednesday. Brandi Krieg finished with nine.
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