Even in losses this season, the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team was able to contest nearly every game until the final whistle. The two exceptions have been against the Western Colorado University Mountaineers.
The matchup between the two teams once again went against the Skyhawks, as the Mountaineers claimed a 76-64 win and led by double-digits for much of the game. The win gave Western Colorado, the second-place team in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, a season sweep of FLC after it took a 84-72 home win against the Skyhawks Jan. 17.
“Obviously, a very emotional night,” FLC head coach Orlando Griego said after the senior-night loss. “Unfortunately, just not able to pull a win together. I firmly believe that Western is a really, really good basketball team. Just looking at the teams we have, I think they play the best team basketball, and they’re hard to stop. They’re very physical. They shared the ball really well. They’re really good.”
Despite dropping both games on the final home weekend of the season and a losing streak now at six games, the Skyhawks (15-11, 11-10 RMAC) did not lose ground in pursuit of the seventh or eighth seed in the eight-team RMAC tournament, as seventh-place Dixie State (17-10, 12-9 RMAC) fell 57-55 at Colorado Christian and ninth-place Metro State University (12-15, 11-10 RMAC) fell 66-65 to CSU-Pueblo on a buzzer-beating layup by Janaiya Davis.
Though Metro State and FLC are tied in conference record, FLC has the tiebreaker thanks to a 63-61 win against the Roadrunners at home Jan. 3.
“We were really coming into these last two games knowing we had to win both games. There’s a game that was dropped by another team, and so pretty much all we have to do is win to get into the tournament,” Griego said.
As it has all season, FLC showed plenty of fight Saturday night against Western Colorado. But a big foul discrepancy in the fourth quarter limited FLC’s chance at coming back from a 50-41 deficit entering the final 10 minutes.
The hot shooting of Jessie Erickson and Samantha Coleman also was key for the Mountaineers. Erickson scored 15 of her 19 points in the first half, and Coleman would scored 22 of her game-high 24 points in the second half with 12 in the fourth quarter alone. She hit two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to suck the life out of the Skyhawks each time FLC had a big play to bring the crowd to life.
“Very deflating,” Griego said. “As we get momentum and start to really gain some confidence, she was found wide open or had a challenged shot and it was going down. We could have done a better job putting her in positions - I think she hit three of the four shots in the same place - and so we needed to run her off different areas, but she shot the ball really well.”
FLC freshman forward Jordan Vasquez was the lone Skyhawk in double figures, as she scored 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting. Seniors Aubre Fortner and Kayla Herrera-Flores each had eight points in the final home game of their careers. Junior forward Jordan Carter also had eight points and a team-high six rebounds. Kaitlyn Romero added three points in her final game at Whalen.
FLC will finish the regular season at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Adams State University (3-24, 3-18 RMAC). A win, and FLC is in the conference tournament as the eighth seed with a chance at a third-game against top-seed Colorado Mesa on the road in the first round after two three-point losses to the Mavericks this year.
“As sad as it was and emotional as it was for the team in the locker room, we broke that news to the team and there was a newfound energy and kind of like a relief,” Griego said. “Like, OK, we’re not finished. We have some unfinished business. The spirits are high and the girls are excited for next week.”