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Pagosa girls make the Great Eight, play Estes Park tonight

At the end of the 2008-2009 season, as coach Wes Lewis tells it, the Pirates took a trip to Moby Arena at Colorado State University in Fort Collins to watch the state basketball championships.

According to Lewis, the team watched and decided that, given determination and focus, they were good enough to make it back to Fort Collins the next year.

As competitors.

Last Saturday afternoon, that dream came true as the Pirates earned their spot in the Great Eight at the state championships, easily defeating the Buena Vista Demons 40-22 after a tough fight on Friday night against the Aspen Skiers that led to a 45-34 Pagosa victory.

The road to Fort Collins was hard fought, however, as the Pirates were met with a tough Aspen Skier defense last Friday night. Up 14 points twice in the second half, the Pirates nonetheless held onto enough of a lead to take the game.

“They had a lot of size,” said coach Wes Lewis, regarding two Aspen players standing a few inches over six feet

In fact, the Skiers played a physical game, mostly focused on Pagosa post Mary Brinton, trying to contain a key player for the Pirates.

“They were able to come in and put the clamps on Mary,” Lewis said, “but that opened it up for some of the other girls.”

Despite constant double-teaming by the Skiers, Brinton led the team with 14 points, with the Bryant sisters both getting 13 points each, with Breezy logging three steals and Megan leading the team with eight rebounds. Victoria Espinosa helped by leading the team with four assists.

Furthermore, the Pirates showed excellent ball control in the battle against the Skiers, giving up a mere nine turnovers for the game.

Lewis said, “We didn’t dominate them the way we thought we could.”

After Friday’s workout, the Pirates had no trouble on Saturday afternoon against the 13th-seeded Buena Vista Demons. Having taken a narrow 47-44 overtime victory in Buena Vista against the Demons on Dec. 4 in the season opener, the Pirates took to the hardwood prepared for a pitched battle.

Indeed, with no score on the board more than halfway into the first quarter, it looked as though the Demons had conjured an effective defense against the Pirates. While the Demons finally managed to capture the first bucket well past the four-minute mark, the Pirate defense performed superbly in what was arguably their best defensive game all season. With the Demons scoring just one more point in the quarter, the Pirates led 6-3 going into the second period.

It was in that quarter where the Demons appeared to lose their composure. Scoring just a single basket in the period and with key player Alyssa Wicoxson taking her fourth foul, the Demons were hapless against a selfish Pirate defense and a steamrolling Pagosa offense. The Pirates left the half with a 19-5 lead.

“That was the best defense we’ve played all season,” Lewis said.

With the Demons unable to execute beyond double digits in the third quarter, Buena Vista coach Bob Marken was forced to bring Wicoxson back into the game. Although the Demons managed to score seven points in the period (with four points scored by Wicoxson), they were unable to match Pagosa’s nine points, much less chisel into the huge lead the Pirates carved out for themselves in the first half. Down 28-12 going into the final period, the Demons had little to no room to position themselves for a rally and, outscored 12-10 in the fourth, fell 40-22 to the Pirates.

“We continued on defense in the second half and we didn’t look back,” Lewis said.

Brinton led the team with 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals, and tied Breezy Bryant with three assists, who scored nine points for the game, as did her sister, Megan.

Having proved their commitment to last season’s vision and earning their spot in the field this weekend, the Pagosa girls travel to Fort Collins as the fourth-seeded team in the tourney and will face fifth-seeded Estes Park (21-3) tonight at 4 p.m. to vie for a spot in the next round. If the Pirates prevail, they will meet the winner of the match between the top-seeded Colorado Springs Christian Lions (24-0) and the ninth-seeded St. Mary’s Pirates (21-3).

Tonight’s game should be interesting as the Pirates face the 3A’s leading scorer, Kimmy Hansen, the Estes Park junior who has been averaging 25.5 points per game (Pagosa’s Brinton is second in the division with 22 points per game).

“She’s going to be a tough cover,” Lewis said. “She’s an extremely talented athlete — a very, very tough penetrator.”

However, if the Pirates can muster the defense displayed on Saturday afternoon, the road to Fort Collins could hold ample reward.

jim@pagosasun.com