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State championship within sight

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Grand Valley High School's Kasi Jensen, left, and Lyndsey Tonder, center battle with Rocky Ford High School's Amber Lowther for a loose ball during first half action of their class 2A girls semifinal Friday in Massari Arena on the campus of CSU-Pueblo. Photo by Bryan Kelsen
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PUEBLO ” As if there were ice pumping through her veins, Kendall Babler took an inbound pass and gracefully weaved through the Rocky Ford press, waiting for a foul.

That foul finally came way down on Grand Valley’s end of the court.

With 37.6 seconds left on the clock and in front of a packed house at Colorado State University-Pueblo’s Massari Center, the Cardinal senior drained two free throws to give her team an eight-point lead, serving as the knockout blow that landed her team in the Class 2A state championship game.



Grand Valley proceeded to run down the clock and polish off a 38-33 win over previously undefeated Rocky Ford in the state semifinals, earning a date with Wray in today’s state title game.

“It’s awesome,” an emotional Babler after the game. “I just want to tell the whole world, you know. It’s senior year and this is all you dream for.”



Though she wore a stoic expression in the closing minutes, Babler admitted that she was anything but calm as stepped to the stripe late in the game.

“I still get nervous,” the point guard said with a smile. “Whenever I’m on the free-throw line I get nervous, because they’re so important.”

Babler finished with a game-high 18 points, a total that included a 9-for-12 clip from the line. She rounded out a balanced stat sheet with six rebounds and five assists.

“In my mind, Kendall is the best ball-handler, passer, point guard I’ve ever seen at

this level,” praised Grand Valley head coach Mike Johnson, who has his program as

far it’s ever been at the state tournament. “She’s certainly the best I’ve had. When you

have a point guard like that it makes everyone else better. To finish games like that, it

makes it so easy ” just get it in her hands and she’ll runthe offense and go.”

While Babler provided the lion’s share of the offense, the Cardinals’ defense is what

landed them in the state title. With a swarming, in-your-face defense, Grand Valley

forced countless bad Rocky Ford

shots. The Meloneers, who entered the contest 24-0, shot just 37.9 percent

(11-for-49) from the floor.

“I thought our defense caused them problems,” said Johnson, whose team improved

to 19-4. “They’ve got a heck of a point guard [Dara Dillon] and Erin Vanderpool, a

sophomore, basically shut her down.”

Vanderpool, whose defensive prowess helped the Cardinals clear Holyoke in

Thursday’s quarterfinal, held the quick Dillon to just six points.

In fact, no Meloneer reached double digits in scoring. Bianca Aragon led Rocky Ford

with eight points, followed by Rebecca Apodaca with seven. The Meloneers lost one

of their top scoring threats ” Amber

Lowther ” to an ankle injury on a fastbreak early in the third quarter.

“You can always make excuses,” Rocky Ford coach Cody Ridenoure said. “Yeah, it

hurt us, but we’ve had to play without kids all year. That same gal went down with a

broken finger to start the year and came back after Christmas and was our leading

scorer.”

After Babler, Grand Valley’s next highest scorers were Vanderpool and Lauren

Schubert, each with six points.

The Cardinals, known for churning out transition points in loads, took a patient

approach against Rocky Ford, working the ball around the perimeter and waiting for

high-percentage looks.

Johnson claims that approach wasn’t by design.

“We wanted to run,” he said. “I think we struggled with them so much on the boards it

made it tough for us to run. Offensively, I thought we were patient ” almost to a fault. I

thought we could have been more aggressive.”

Departing from their typical offensive style and still getting the win only adds to the

Cardinals’ collective confidence, Vanderpool stressed.

“It’s huge,” she said. “We know whatever [opposing teams] throw at us, we’ll be able

to battle through it and show what we are.”

Vanderpool and her Grand Valley teammates, who arrived in Pueblo as the tourney’s

No. 6 seed, will no doubt see everything and the kitchen sink in today’s 5:15 p.m. title

game against No. 6 Wray, which defeated previously unbeaten (and top-seeded)

Simla 52-42 in Friday’s other semifinal.

Whatever happens, the Cardinals will have each other’s backs to the bitter end.

“Everyone promised at the beginning of the season that we were going to work our

hardest and put everything we had into it,” Babler said. “We made a promise to each

other.”

Later today they’ll find out if that promise ends with the greatest prize of all ” state

championship.


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