A great season of basketball almost became a fantastic year for the Cedaredge Bruins basketball team. A highly controversial call in the late stages of last Friday's semifinal round of the 2A girls' state basketball championships may have cost Cedaredge a shot at an all-Western Slope final matchup. An intentional foul call against Kendall McHugh allowed Yuma an opportunity to win a 55-50 contest which sent Yuma to the finals and Cedaredge to the 2A third-place contest.
In quarterfinal action, on Thursday, Cedaredge trailed for three quarters before putting together a 20-7 fourth-quarter run and defeating Kiowa, 53-41.
The third-place game against No. 3 Wray, on Saturday, was determined in the first half. The Bruins outscored Wray 30-28 and then held on in the second half on a last-second shot by senior Lacey Love to win, 56-54.
Bruins 53, Kiowa 41
Kiowa matched Cedaredge's intensity, and nerves, to come away with a two-point lead after one quarter of action. Kendall McHugh was the catalyst for Cedaredge with eight points in the opening quarter. Melanie Deering had seven of the Indians' 14 points as the two teams jostled for dominance early.
Only Cedaredge's Nellie Freeman remembered how to shoot the ball in second-half play. The Bruins' dynamo scored seven of her team's nine points in the period, leaving Cedaredge behind 22-21 at halftime.
Helen Janes scored seven of the Indians' 12 points in the third quarter while Nellie Freeman added five more points to her totals and Hannah Gilmore added four in a 12-point Cedaredge effort.
Freshman Courtney Freeman made her presence felt in the fourth quarter with seven points. Junior Hailey Henrie added fuel to the fire with her five points, helping spark a 20-7 game-winning run.
Madi Zielinski's two 3-pointers weren't enough to get the Indians' offense back on track.
Nellie Freeman finished with 15 points and earned game-scoring honors. McHugh tallied 13 and Courtney Freeman contributed nine to the win.
Janes and Deering finished with 12 points each for No. 5 Kiowa (20-5).
Yuma 55, Bruins 50
Cedaredge's determination was an obvious factor in its success against No. 1 Yuma. The Bruins used balanced scoring in the first period to keep Yuma at bay for most of three quarters of play.
The Indians had six 3-point shots in the first quarter but trailed 17-15 at the end of the first quarter. Nellie Freeman, McHugh and Gilmore all had five points in the frame.
Yuma's Tara Traphagan scored six of the Indians' nine points in the second quarter but Cedaredge carried the stanza with 10 of its own points to lead, 27-24, at halftime.
The game got serious in third-quarter play. Yuma put up 20 points while the Bruins were good for 18 and a 45-44 lead. McHugh scored eight points and Nellie Freeman six for the Bruins in the period.
The game's tempo had slowed in fourth-quarter action. Late in the period, with Yuma leading 52-50, an intentional foul was called that put the Indians' Logan Hixon on the free-throw line for three shots.
Hixon made all three and then managed to hold on to defeat the Bruins 55-50.
The chance for an all-Western Slope final, and a state title, vanished with the loss. Instead, Cedaredge landed in the tournament's third-place game against No. 3 Wray.
Three Bruins finished with double-digit scoring. Nellie Freeman had 15, Gilmore 14 and McHugh another 13 for Cedaredge.
Making matters worse, in this game, was the injury to Nellie Freeman when she was accidently elbowed and forced to leave the game for a time. She did return but did not score.
Traphagan was Yuma's leading scorer with 16 points and Hixon and Peighton Roth finished with 13 points each.
Bruins 56, Wray 54
This was an entertaining game for fans. Two top-five teams scrapped for 32 minutes and then gasped for air at its conclusion.
Cedaredge got a start it needed from Gilmore's play, both inside and outside. Gilmore scored the Bruins' first eight points and finished with 11 of her team's 18 points scored in the period. The Bruins entered second-period play with a four-point lead.
Wray's Hannah Lenz took control of the Eagles' offense to score six points in a 14-12 run. The 30-28 halftime lead, by Cedaredge, was more meaningful than imagined.
Each team scored 11 points in the third quarter. McHugh's eight points ignited the Bruins' efforts and created some energy.
A tremendous amount of energy was expended in the final quarter as both teams strained to control the game.
Morgan Smith forced Cedaredge to defend the middle of the paint with her dives to the rim. She shot seven free throws and made five of them down the stretch.
A pair of 3-pointers from Henrie and one by McHugh were huge for Cedaredge. The game's most important goal was scored by senior guard Lacey Love with just five seconds left in the game.
After all the strength was sapped from both teams, the two-point difference at halftime proved to be the deciding factor, as both teams scored 15 points in the final eight minutes of play.
The Bruins' final margin of victory was two, 56-54.
Gilmore's 16 points were the most scored by a Bruins player. McHugh added 14 and Henrie was good for 10. Nellie Freeman finished with nine points.
Khirsten Mooney had 12 points to lead Wray shooters. Lenz was next high with 10.
Cedaredge coach Ryan Hilbig was visibly relieved the game had ended as it had. When asked who stepped up in the win, Hilbig doled out plenty of praise. "In the course of the game there were so many girls who stepped up. It changed every five minutes. Everyone stepped up when they had to. These kids love playing with each other and they love each other."
As it is so often, the final message from a head coach to his players, especially the seniors, is a hard one to deliver. With a glimmer of a tear in his eye, Hilbig said one of the toughest messages he had to deliver was when he told his team, "I've dreaded this moment for three years."
Cedaredge ended the season at 24-3.