With two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and the score tied, 54-54, the Moffat County High School girls basketball team felt pretty good about its chances to defeat the Grand Junction Central Warriors. The Bulldog's best shooter, senior Laurel Mortensen, was on the free throw line for a one-and-one and the chance to break the tie.
"I was incredibly calm before the free throws," Mortensen said. "I've had to make shots like that before."
To the surprise of Mortensen and the home crowd, the first free throw hit the inside back of the rim and bounced out, sending the game into overtime.
The Bulldogs scored five unanswered points to start the overtime, but in a game in which both teams had come back from deficits of at least six points, it was fitting that Grand Junction came back with a hot streak of its own. Senior Lindsey Kame sandwiched a lay-up between senior Morgan Nieslanik's two three pointers to put the Warriors ahead by three, 62-59. The Bulldogs had two three-point attempts in the final 30 seconds but both missed and the Warriors held on to win, 64-59.
"This was the first time we were all healthy and it showed that we are a better team than our record says," Warriors coach Matt Linholm said of his team that came in with a 2-5 record. "It's been two years in a row that these teams have gone down to the wire and it is nice to get a win this time around."
Last year, the Bulldogs pulled out a 52-50 victory in what was considered one of the team's best performances of the season. Both teams went on to qualify for the state playoffs after their battle.
MCHS coach Craig Mortensen said he wished his girls could play Central every week.
"We need to be pushed and challenged like this more often," he said. "Obviously I would have liked to win, but maybe Laurel is saving that game-winning free throw for the league championship or a bigger game down the stretch."
The Warriors were familiar with the Bulldogs and their strengths -- something MCHS hadn't seen much this year with five of six games against teams from Utah and the Front Range.
"Laurel was our main focus on defense," Linholm said. "We did a good job in the first half keeping the ball out of her hands, but the second half was when they got her the ball and came back on us."
In the first half, the Bulldogs were able to spread the scoring out to make up for the focus on Mortensen. In the first quarter alone, six players contributed for the team's 14 points.
"We knew coming in the season that we couldn't count on Laurel to do all the scoring," said senior Ashley Bishop. "This was one of the first games where someone actually defended her well and we had to spread out the scoring to stay in the game."
The Bulldogs had seven players score as sophomore Brandie Telfer led the way with 18 followed by Mortensen's 15. They were the only two players in double figures.
The Warriors spread out the scoring more with four players in double figures. Kame and senior Willow Peppel were the scoring leaders for the visitors with 15 points each.
"They were the best offensive team we've seen all year," coach Mortensen said. "They had inside presence, and outside shooting as well."
The Warriors' all-around ability allowed them to come back from deficits of six points in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.
"When we were able to play good defense is when we had the good streaks," Linholm said. "Moffat County really put up a challenge for us after the third quarter."
The Bulldogs had a comeback of their own in the third quarter as they out-scored the Warriors, 21-8. Central turned around and owned the fourth quarter out-scoring MCHS, 14-8, and had a chance to win it with a three pointer that missed with six seconds left in the game. On the rebound of the missed shot is when Laurel Mortensen was fouled for the final free-throw attempt.
"It never went through my head that we were going to lose," Laurel Mortensen said. "We go through the final two minutes of a game all the time in practice, it just didn't work out for us today."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.