After a 1-9 start to the season, the Durango High School girls basketball team justifiably could have looked ahead to the 2018-19 season. Instead, the group of girls matched the determination of their coach to go on a run to reach the state tournament.
The season did come to a close for the Demons on Tuesday in Monument. After winning seven of their final 10 games to reach the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A Girls Basketball State Tournament, the No. 35 Demons went on the road to face No. 30 Palmer Ridge in the first round.
Palmer Ridge, which canceled classes Tuesday because of winter weather, leading to few fans for the state tournament opener, started slow but cruised to a 56-41 home win.
“They didn’t quit,” DHS head coach Tim Fitzpatrick said. “They showed a lot of toughness all year and tonight. This group, from where we started this summer to here, they’ve really improved, and I’m really proud of them. They’ve been overachievers.”
With the win, Palmer Ridge advanced to the second round and will face No. 3 Air Academy (22-1) on Friday.
DHS (10-13) took a 2-0 lead after a quick Hilda Garcia basket, but it would be the Demons’ only lead against the Bears (13-11).
Durango went down 13-5 after one quarter and 37-16 at halftime. The Bears took a 42-25 lead into the fourth quarter, but Durango got as close as 51-41 with 1 minute, 23 seconds to play.
“The toughness to come back and cut it to 10 was great,” Fitzpatrick said. “We missed a couple of really easy shots to try to get it under 10, but they never quit.”
Garcia led DHS with 15 points. Fitzpatrick credited the leadership of Garcia and fellow seniors Elise Gilleland and Brett Rowland for setting the tone for the second-half push in the season.
“We’re going to miss Brett, Elise and Hilda,” Fitzpatrick said. “Elise played a really outstanding basketball game for us tonight, and Hilda was doing everything she could even though she was the major focus of (Palmer Ridge’s) defense. The leadership of the three seniors is the reason these kids turned their season around.”
Fitzpatrick is excited about the future with returning freshmen Maddy McManus, Kyle Rowland and Brenna Wolf, who all played good minutes Tuesday. He’s also inspired by the tough play of returning girls such as Lily Chick, Emma Fitzgerald and Emma Hackett.
“We qualified for state,” Fitzpatrick said. “We don’t talk about goals a lot, but going forward that’s the expectation. It’s been laid before them with the groups now the previous three years.”