Just a year ago the Eads Lady Eagles advanced to the 1A Colorado State Tournament with nary a senior on the team. Therefore, with nearly an identical team on Friday in La Junta, the Eads team held high anticipation of the possibility of another trip to the coveted final eight. However, it would not be as a combination of a hot Sangre de Cristo team, a very sluggish Eads offense, and some officiating that was inconsistent allowing the big girls to foul excessively down low, would prove to be the demise for the Eagles in the semifinals of the Region 3 Tournament on Friday afternoon. The Eads season would disappointingly end with a 52-35 romping at the hands of Sangre de Cristo.
The next day, the Kim/Branson girls, who Eads had defeated in the regular season, took care of Sangre de Cristo, 47-25, to eliminate them and advance to the Elite Eight state tournament.
The Eads girls look okay for a while early in the game, but it was obvious that the very aggressive defense from Sangre de Cristo bothered Eads quite a bit. The officials let the two teams play, particularly on the bottom where Eads senior post Mariah Smith was pounded on all night in Sangre’s desperate attempt to control the biggest girl on the floor. Smith battled throughout the game as she consistently carried Eads on her shoulders. In the first period, Eads struggled to run any kind of offense against Sangre’s man defense and would only get a bucket apiece from Smith, Miranda Mitchek, and Kaylee Wilson. Eads was outscored, 12-7, in the first quarter as it became quite obvious that only two players on the Sangre team presented a threat. Junior Jessica Slane and freshman Kylee Christensen did it all for the Thunderbirds combining to score 12 points in the first period.
The main problem for Eads was the fact that two starters, Mitchek and Wilson, both ball handlers, got in foul trouble right away. Coach Trey Eder tried to set them, but the lack of a quarterback on the court really hindered the Eagles’ offensive threat. Sangre would score 12 more points in the second period, while Eads could only duplicate their production from the first with Smith getting all but two free throws. Eads was in trouble, 24-14, at halftime. In addition, they had Mitchek, Wilson, and senior Brenna Rouse in foul trouble, all with three dings against them.
Coming out into the third, Wilson quickly pulled her fourth foul and sat for most of the third. Eads battled with their final push and got within six points midway through the third, but some questionable calls by the officials completely took the Eads girls out of their game as they lost composure in the highly stressful contest. Smith continued to get pummeled underneath but she went to free throw line five times in the third, only going 2-for-5 in that stretch. By the end of the third, Eads trailed even more, 39-36 after only Slane and Christensen scored in the third.
The fourth period was an ugly one as Wilson quickly fouled out and Mitchek and Rouse both pulled their fourth fouls forcing them to be less aggressive defensively in order to stay in the game. Sophomore Morgyn Johnson and junior Hadlie Rittgers both brought energy and some scoring production from the bench. Johnson would hit five points in the final period for Eads. But, ultimately, the Lady Eagles just fouled way too many times as they put the Thunderbirds on the line 30 times throughout the game. In the final period only Johnson got to the line once, while Sangre’s five all got to the line shooting a combination of 15 free throws.
The loss ended Eads’ season with a 16-7 overall record.
Smith was the only Eads player that could get to the hoop with any effectiveness scoring 16 points. Mitchek and Rittgers had six points, while Johnson added five. Slane had 19 points and Christensen added 18 in the Sangre win.
Eads loses three seniors to graduation including their top scorer, Smith who averaged 9.9 points per game and 7.9 rebounds; Brenna Rouse (4.8 ppg, 2.6 rpg); and Madison Kelley who was a nice option off the bench who could come into the post and play big despite her smaller stature. These seniors have been key to the success of the Eagle program going to state 3 of the past 4 years.
Eads will return a talented bunch of players who have seen quite a bit of court time this year. They will need to spend a great amount of time in the gym if they want to compete with some of the impressive and young teams seen in the Regional Tournament this year.
(Photo Credit Bob Schecter)