Paonia High School girls' basketball coach remembered the scenario which unfolded in the 2010 championship matchup between the Eagles and Akron. "Down eight with 2:30 left in the game. I asked the girls to look me in the eye and I told them we were going to win," quoted Paonia girls coach Scott Rienks.
And, win the Eagles did, 43-39, to win the state title that year (2010).
Faced with a similar situation against a strong Del Norte team on Friday in semifinal action in Loveland, Paonia was struggling to hold a lead. Rienks called a time out and asked the girls to look him in the eye. "We're going to win this game," and repeated it several times. His team had smiles on their faces and when they resumed play they had a different mindset. The Eagles posted a thrilling 49-48 decision propelling them to the title game against Wray, a 46-44 winner over last year's champion Yuma, in semifinal action.
Paonia faced No. 7 Swink in quarterfinal action on opening night of the 2A Colorado State Basketball Championships and battled to a 54-44 victory on Thursday night sending them-selves on their way toward a second state title in basketball.
In the title game on Saturday Paonia overcame a tight first quarter against Wray to go on and claim its second state title, a 59-42 win at the Class 2A State Basketball Championship in Loveland at the Budweiser Events Center.
Paonia 54, Swink 44
An unbelievably cold shooting night was enough to discourage most teams. Not the Paonia Eagles. Paonia's resolve the entire season was its opportunistic offense and a smothering defense.
Paonia got a pair of field goals from three players, including McKenna Hartigan, Emily Pieper and Brianna Van Vleet helping the Eagles earn a narrow 12-11 lead in the first quarter. Courtney Estrada netted seven points to keep the Lions close in the opening quarter.
Swink took a 26-24 halftime lead on the strength of Brianna Denton's nine points in the second period.
Neither offense was very efficient in the third quarter, but the Eagles held an upper hand with a 13-8 run which produced a 37-34 lead after three quarters of play.
Senior Sophia Anderson tallied seven points in the fourth quarter and Pieper chipped in five points helping the Eagles add seven more points to its lead making the final score 54-44.
Pieper's 16 points lead a trio of double-digit scorers for Paonia. Joining Pieper in double digits were Anderson (14) and Hartigan (10).
Brianna Denton had 16 points to lead the Lions' offense.
Eagles 49, Tigers 48
A sputtering Paonia offense was aided by a superb defense in the first quarter of the Eagles' semifinal contest against No. 3 Del Norte. The Tigers managed to score just five points in the opening quarter while Paonia had enough offense to score 10 points.
The Eagles clung to a 20-17 halftime lead but appeared to be holding their own as the game progressed.
Del Norte freshman Kendra Parra led a 19-14 scoring run for the Tigers pushing Del Norte to a 36-34 lead heading to the fourth period. The play of Anderson, with eight points (including a pair of threes), kept Paonia within striking distance.
Anderson caught fire in the fourth quarter and scored nine points and Pieper went five for six at the free throw line as the Eagles outscored Del Norte by three to win the semifinal match with a 49-48 score.
Anderson played with confidence and scored 22 points to lead all scorers in the game. Pieper finished with 13 points for the Eagles.
Kendra Parra and Lacie Jones had 14 points each for the Tigers and Bailey Jones finished with 13.
Paonia 59, Wray 42
Wray's Morgan Smith was a one-person wrecking crew for the Eagles in the title game. She dropped in nine first-quarter points on her way to a 26-point performance in the championship game. The talented sophomore exhibited experience beyond her years and was the main reason Wray stayed close in the early going.
Wray, leading 13-10 with a handful of seconds left in the first period, had the wind taken from its sails when Paonia senior Brittany Kendall launched a half court shot from the right side of the center jump circle hit nothing but net as the quarter-ending buzzer sounded. Kendall's shot tied the game at 13-13 as teams prepared to play the second quarter.
There was a unanimous decision by the entire squad about how much that half court shot motivated Paonia's team and crowd. Hartigan and Anderson, when interviewed following the game, commented on the shot by Kendall at the end of the first quarter.
"Oh yeah, it motivated us," said Hartigan. "We were watching and thinking it wasn't going to go and then it did!"
Anderson was on the bench at the time of Kendall's shot having a contusion wrapped to stop bleeding on her knee. "Everyone was jumping up and down but I couldn't because my knee was being wrapped. I just yelled."
Kendall's 3-pointer was the only points scored by the senior in this contest, but they might as well have been the game winners.
Paonia used the excitement from Kendall's shot to go on an 18-7 run in the second quarter, blowing the game wide open. Hartigan fueled the Eagles' scoring burst with 11 points, mostly on easy shots in the paint and in front of the basket.
Paonia came out in the second half and played with confidence at both ends of the floor creating numerous turnovers which converted to easy baskets. Paonia's 28 points in the second half was seven better than Wray could muster resulting in the 59-42 final score.
Hartigan's 18 points topped Paonia scorers. Anderson finished with 16 points and Pieper contributed 11.
Smith was the only Wray Eagle in double figures in the title contest. No one else had more than six points.