There was a mix of hugs and long faces after the Bulldogs varsity girls basketball team season came to an end Saturday night.
The No. 1-seeded Moffat County High School (MCHS) dropped a 45-40 decision to the No. 2-seeded Rifle Bears in the title game of the District 7 Tournament in Steamboat Springs.
The youthful Bulldogs, who finished 16-5 on the season, are confident they will be back.
"I think that when we come out next year we will be even better," said junior guard Emily Mortensen, one of 11 players on varsity scheduled to return next season. "We are only losing one person in Michelle (Donnel), a senior. She helped us out with her leadership this year and she stepped up her play, but I think that next year we will be even a better team."
On Friday night, MCHS advanced to the championship game with a 60-38 win over the Glenwood Springs Demons.
The loss to the Bears couldn't dim what was a breakthrough season for the Bulldogs, who shared the regular season title with Rifle with a 7-1 conference record.
"The returning basketball players that we will have next year like the game of basketball and they work hard," said Bulldogs coach Craig Mortensen. "Right now the off-season starts. I feel super about our junior varsity and freshmen programs. We are going to win a lot of games at the varsity level in the next few years."
Heading into the final quarter of the title game, MCHS trailed the Bears, 30-22, before coming alive and cutting the score to 32-30 with five mintues to play. In that stretch, freshman Laurel Mortensen and sister Emily Mortensen each scored four points.
Rifle then went on a 6-1 run to build its lead to 38-31 at the 3:09 mark. Laurel Mortensen scored a breakaway layup to cut the advantage to 38-33. The Bears answered with a bucket to go up 40-33.
Laurel Mortensen nailed two free throws and Emily Mortensen hit a baseline jumper to cut the lead to three points, 40-37, with one minute left to play.
The Bears got one free throw to go up 41-37 and then senior Michelle Donnel nailed a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game at 41-40 with 20 seconds left in regulation.
"The coach (Craig Mortensen) told me to shoot the ball," said Donnel. "We were down by four points (41-37) and he said the next 3-pointer had to be taken and it just went in. We had a lot of unfortunte turnovers at the end of the game. We just ran out of time."
Donnel's points would be the last ones the Bulldogs scored as Rifle got its final five points from juinior Jamie Lyons to earn the win.
"We thought that it was going to be a close game with Rifle," said Emily Mortensen, who finished with team-high honors at 14 points. "We knew that we had to play really good the whole game. I thought that we didn't step up our play until the fourth quarter."
Sophomore guard Amber Sanchez added seven points and Laurel Mortensen finished with six points.
"We thought that it was going to be a close game," said coach Mortensen. "Any time you get to a championship game you have to be proud of what your kids did during the regular season."
Against the Glenwood Springs Demons, junior Heather Urbanoski led the way with 12 points and Emily Mortensen finished with 10 points. Sophomore Ashleigh Gregg and Laurel Mortensen both added eight points.
"We kind of struggled early keeping our feet down against Glenwood Springs," said coach Mortensen. "The thing that kept us in it was our defense. We weren't ready to play that first quarter. They rebounded in the second quarter and got back on track by hitting some free throws."
and doing what they needed to do."