After participating in both 4A and 3A classifications, Delta High School will be sending its girls' basketball team to this year's 3A State Basketball Championships on the campus of Denver University beginning March 7. There's a state of giddiness and jubilation with Delta's first state basketball berth. The Panthers have, in the past, been to the Sweet 16 multiple times, but not to the Elite 8 or Final 4 ever.
Delta has had several firsts this basketball campaign, beginning with an outright claim to the 3A WSL team title and the WSL District title a week ago. Add to those honors the title to last weekend's regional tournament featuring No. 4 Delta, 21-1, (host team for the first time in a regional), No. 13 SkyView Academy (Highlands Ranch, 19-3), No. 20 Middle Park (Leadville, 16-5) and No. 29 Lake County (Leadville, 16-6).
Maybe this year's venture to the Elite 8 will lead to a Final 4 appearance and then a title shot (with a state championship) to mark yet another first for a stellar program at Delta High School.
Other WSL teams participating in regional play included Moffat County (No. 12, 17-5), Cedaredge (No. 11, 17-5), Grand Valley (No. 14, 16-6), Roaring Fork (No. 23, 11-9) and Coal Ridge (No. 28, 11-9).
Moffat County, Roaring Fork and Coal Ridge lost first round games to end their seasons while Cedaredge and Grand Valley won opening round games to advance to the Sweet 16 where they too lost bids to move on to Denver University for the Elite 8 (March 7), Final 4 competition (March 8) and the championship game March 9.
Delta 63, Panthers 39
This was a cat-fight between two teams whose mascots are Panthers. Delta was riding a 17-game winning streak coming into the game while Lake County was on a 9-game win streak before losing to Middle Park, 57-37, in the semifinal round of the Frontier League district tournament. A 45-29 win over Arrupe Jesuit in the third-place game earned a berth in regional play in Delta.
Delta was the stronger Panther in this battle and demonstrated that with a 23-5 first quarter. Five Delta players figured in the scoring in the first quarter with sophomore Alexa Huff's six counters leading the way. Freshman Erika Kuta contributed five points in the big offensive surge.
Lake County's Jaqui Flores found the range for some long shots to score 10 points in the second period and the visiting Panthers shaved one point off Delta's lead with a 17-16 quarter. Senior Missa Webb had six points for Delta helping the home team take a 39-22 halftime lead.
Delta has had strong second half play most of the year and Friday's contest held true with a 16-3 run and a 55-25 lead going to the final period.
Jaqui Flores hit another pair of treys in the fourth quarter to help Lake County earn a 14-8 advantage in the final eight minutes of play.
Huff's 16 points paced Delta's offense with Webb adding 13, junior Sara Geddes chipping in another 11 markers and Kuta finishing with nine points.
Lake County's leading scorer, Jaqui Flores, was also the game's leading scorer with 17 points. Twin sister Joanna also scored double figures with 10 points.
Delta 53, Hawks 39
SkyView Academy came into regional tournament play with three losses, all to 3A Metro League foe Lutheran. After a win over Middle Park on Friday night, the Hawks sensed they might stretch their win streak with a victory over the Panthers. Both teams sported excellent records entering Saturday's regional title game; SkyView was 20-3 and Delta was 22-1.
The anticipated competition was realized in SkyView's deliberate offense and a stingy defense. Delta had the same characteristics and fans settled in to see who would emerge the victor in a defensive struggle.
The Panthers didn't overpower SkyView in the second quarter, but they did score six more points than their opponents to take a 21-16 lead to halftime.
Delta's intensity increased in second half play with sophomore Keely Porter displaying athleticism and 10 points on a variety of shots in the third quarter helping the Panthers build a 20-point lead, 36-16 in the middle of the quarter.
Though Delta funneled 19 points through the net and its defense held the Hawks to 13 points in the third frame, SkyView found ways to stay within striking distance. Nine of those third-quarter points came on two 3-point shots from Syd Wyatt and another from Yaya Miller-Forrest and was enough to trim Delta's lead to 11, 40-29.
Porter's seven points in the fourth quarter led the Panthers' 13-point effort. SkyView didn't go quietly with Wyatt scoring eight of her team's 10 points in the period (including six of six free throws).
Delta's Porter and SkyView's Wyatt led their respective teams offense with 21 points each. Webb finished with 11 points to give the Panthers two players in double figure scoring.
Following the title game coach Crowder offered thoughts on the game's outcome. "The girls showed up ready to play and they brought intensity. That other team got tired ... we wore them down. We weathered the storm and kept a mindset needed to win."
The keys of the game, according to Crowder, were multiple. "There was no one girl who stood out tonight. I felt Keely Porter was definitely the girl who took over and Alexa Huff did some incredible things for us. You can't overlook the play of our guards who were asked to guard full court. They worked in shifts to keep pressure on the ball. They make so much happen that isn't a recorded stat."
Crowder's final thoughts reflect confidence in his team. "These are exciting times. We have some experience in past years of playing in Denver with some wins. These girls know how to get on a bus and go to Denver and win!"
Looking ahead to the week, and Elite 8 play, Delta, No. 4 and 23-1, will face No. 5 Eaton, 23-1, following a 48-44 win over No. 21 University last Saturday. Delta and Eaton are scheduled to play March 7, (Thursday) at 11:45 a.m. at Denver University.
The winner of Thursday's game is in the semifinal round March 8 against either No. 1 St. Mary's (23-1) or No. 9 Alamosa (17-6) at 7 p.m.
Winners of semifinal play meet for the 3A State Championship on March 9 at 4 p.m.