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Pirate girls 5-1 with win over Salida

Taking advantage of a strong performance on offense in the third quarter, the Pirate girls’ basketball team came back from a four-point deficit at the half to eventually overpower the Salida Spartans 45-36 Saturday night in the Pagosa Springs High School gym.

“There’s certainly room for improvement,” said Coach Wes Lewis, regarding the Pirate’s first half performance, “but as a whole, we’re really thrilled to be at five and one.”

In a low-scoring first half, Pagosa found itself hapless inside the paint, taking shots but rarely connecting.

However, the Pirates defense did a good job at stopping the Spartans’ fast game, holding Salida to just 14 points in the half. In fact, Megan Bryant and Magan Kraetsch almost completely shut down 6-foot Salida phenom Sammi Gentile, holding her to just two points for the game — a player who had scored well over 20 points per game in the Spartan’s previous four outings.

With an 8-6 edge towards the end of the first quarter, Pagosa managed to check the Spartans and prevent a tie at the end of the period. As the Spartans took a fast break and looked to make an easy layup, Pagosa junior Sienna Stretton interrupted the play with a clever swipe at the ball, putting a quick end to Salida’s last second drive.

However, Salida returned the favor in the second quarter, scoring eight points of their own while holding Pagosa to just two points in the period. Despite losing Gentile to near-perfect coverage by the Pirates, the Spartans found enough holes in Pagosa’s defense to end the half with a 14-10 lead.

Regarding being held to two points in the second quarter, Lewis expressed some disappointment, saying, “I want us to score at least 15 points a quarter ... being held to two points, well, that’s not going to get it done.”

Fortunately, the second half was almost all Pagosa as the Pirates sailed ahead in the third quarter. Tying up the game less than a minute into the quarter, the Pirates regained the lead when Breezy Bryant stole the ball from a Spartan, breaking away with the loot and scoring the layup for an easy two points. Setting the pace for the Pirates with numerous steals by the team, Bryant also regained her hot hand in the half, finishing shots that had stymied her previously. With the Pirates strong on offense and defense, Pagosa went into the final period with a 32-25 lead, outscoring Salida 22-11 in the quarter.

The Spartans were down but not out and with six minutes, 17 seconds left in the game, Salida crept within two points of Pagosa’s lead. Shaving another point from the Pirate’s lead at the 3:45 mark, the Spartans gained the lead with a three-pointer, making it a 36-34 game.

Again, it was Bryant who rallied the Pirates, answering Salida with a three-pointer of her own. From there, the Pirates picked up steam just as the Spartans began to sputter. With Pagosa pushing a full-court press onto the Spartan’s plate, Salida looked harried and worn down. With the Pirates pulling off several spectacular steals, cutting short several Spartan drives, Pagosa pulled ahead in the final minutes and ended the game with a satisfying 45-36 win.

Mary Brinton led the Pirates with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Breezy Bryant was second in scoring with 15 points — the two accounting for 40 of the team’s 45 points in the game. Bryant led the team from the free-throw line, hitting seven out of eight for an 87.5 percentage, shoring up her reputation as one of the state’s free-throw leaders, shooting 83 percent from the line.

The Pirates go into winter break with a 5-1 record, with wins against several tough opponents. The Pirates will practice through most of the winter break to prepare for a Jan. 8 rematch against the Spartans in Salida. With games the next week in Ignacio (1-2) and Monte Vista (current IML conference leaders with a 7-1 record), the Pirates return home Tuesday, Jan. 19, for a chance to get revenge on the Cortez Panthers — the only team to defeat the Pirates this season and spoilers of the Dec. 12 Wolf Creek Classic tournament.

jim@pagosasun.com