It was simply stunning the way it ended.
A win in the regular-season finale and the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team would get into the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament. The Skyhawks still had a chance even with a loss. The final minutes of a game in Alamosa and another more than 500 miles away in Chadron, Nebraska, would doom the chances of FLC.
Fort Lewis College missed two 3-pointers and had four disastrous turnovers down the stretch to see a 52-50 lead turn into a 61-52 deficit with 18 seconds to play at Adams State University in Alamosa. The Skyhawks would go on to lose 63-57 to drop a seventh consecutive game.
Metro State University-Denver entered Friday night’s game at Chadron State tied in the conference standings with the Skyhawks but on the outside looking in because of a January loss at FLC. The Roadrunners held a commanding 64-51 lead after three quarters, but the host Eagles stormed all the way back behind the 35 points from Taryn Foxen to get within two points several times in the closing minutes.
It would be the final-minute free-throw shooting of the Roadrunners that would save them, including two from freshman Morgan Lewis of Pagosa Springs. Metro State would earn an 83-79 win to leap past FLC for the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament, as the Roadrunners (13-15, 12-10 RMAC) will now face conference champion Colorado Mesa University (23-5, 19-3 RMAC) in the first round of the tournament next week in Grand Junction.
For FLC (15-12, 11-11 RMAC), it was a bitter way to end a season that started with so much promise under first-year head coach Orlando Griego. Before the seven-game skid, FLC was in fourth place in the conference.
“It’s devastating,” Griego said. “We knew the last three games that we needed to just win one. It’s really hard. The girls bought into me, pushed hard, and it’s just hard swallowing this knowing they worked so hard. We were so close. At the end of the day, we controlled our destiny for the last seven games. As a head coach, I have to do a better job to win games. It’s on me.
“I think we’re still trying to analyze and figure out what we could have done better as a coaching staff and what we need to improve on. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing. It was so many little things. Boxing out, rebounding, setting screens to get people open, pushing the ball in transition a bit harder. We got away from some of that.”
FLC was in a battle from the start and trailed 17-13 after one quarter, but a final-minute layup by Katrina Chandler to end the second quarter had the Skyhawks in front 24-23 at halftime. The Skyhawks and Grizzlies (4-24, 4-18 RMAC) would enter the fourth quarter tied 37-37.
The Skyhawks would claim a lead as large as 49-45 on a 6-0 run that saw two Chandler layups around a pair of Jordan Carter free throws. The Grizzlies refused to go away and reclaimed a 50-49 lead.
With the game tied at 52-52, FLC guard Sydney Candelaria would miss a 3, and Adams State would get a layup. Chandler would then commit two turnovers in a row and had personal fouls after each giveaway to send the Grizzlies to the foul line. Candelaria then turned it over as Danielle Jimenez would get a second consecutive steal, and that led to a layup by Marshell Hollins to make it 57-52. After another missed 3 by Candelaria, Hollins would make two more free throws. Hollins then stole the ball from FLC senior Kaitlyn Romero to lead to a layup from Kassie Schell, and all FLC could do was watch its season slip away down 61-52 with 18 seconds to play.
“The turnovers were very critical,” Griego said. “Coming out of a timeout, we need to execute and be efficient, and we weren’t. We were not able to execute or make shots to give ourselves a chance to win the ball game.”
Zakiya Beckles had 14 points and eight rebounds to lead the Grizzlies, while Hollins, Makaela Ewing and Laura Gutierrez each had nine points. Maddei Dorris added eight points.
FLC was led by freshman forward Jordan Vasquez, who completed her debut season with 15 points and six rebounds with four offensive rebounds. Chandler had 12 points and five rebounds with one assist. Candelaria would finish with 10 points and four rebounds. Those three would combine for 11 turnovers, though. FLC had 14 turnovers to only five assists.
The Skyhawks made only 3-of-23 shots from 3-point range compared to 8-of-28 for the Grizzlies. FLC also was only 12-of-21 at the foul line to 13-of-16 for Adams State.
“The biggest thing was not hitting shots,” Griego said. “We had some shots that were wide open. We’ve struggled shooting,” Griego said.
FLC will return all but three players – seniors Aubre Fornter, Kayla Herrera-Flores and Kaitlyn Romero – to next year’s team. Though the 2019-20 season ended in heartache, Griego is already hungry to get back to work with this group next season.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “The biggest thing for us, we have to get bigger, faster, stronger at all positions. This was eye-opening for our team. We can compete with anybody, but we need to transform our thoughts from competing with everybody to saying we will beat anybody. We gained great experience this year in close games, winning at buzzers. Now, we need to take them one step further, utilize that experience.”