Steamboat Springs For the third time this season, Donald Rolando watched his Hayden Tigers fall apart in the fourth quarter against a balanced North Park team.
The coach watched helplessly from the sideline as his girls missed shot after shot to lose a game that was close until the final period. The Tigers were outscored by the Wildcats 16-9 in the fourth quarter and lost 70-60.
"It was the fourth quarter again," Rolando said. "We just seem to run out of gas against them."
With the loss, the third-seeded Tigers were knocked out of the district tournament. North Park advanced to the championship game, which will be held at 1:30 p.m. today at Steamboat Springs High School.
"It all comes down to mental toughness," Rolando said of his team's fourth quarter falters against the Wildcats. "We just lacked a bit of that."
Randy Hodgson, North Park's head coach, was grateful to escape the game with a win.
"Hayden played awfully hard," Hodgson said. "They always scare me."
The Tigers looked to send the second-seeded Wildcats home early from the tournament with their strong play in the first half.
The Tigers built a 20-9 lead in the first quarter and led 28-18 midway through the second period.
The Tigers then went into a funk offensively, and the Wildcats got some key 3-point baskets by freshman guard Nikki Robben.
Robben scored 12 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers to keep her team in the ball game.
Robben's play in the second quarter was a big reason why the Wildcats only trailed 35-31 at halftime.
"She kept us in the game," Hodgson said of Robben.
Robben got the open looks from behind the arc because the Tigers were collapsing defensively on the Wildcats' center, sophomore Scotland Watenberg.
Watenberg, who torched the Tigers earlier in the season with 20 points, did not score in the first half and was held to six points.
"If you take away their inside game, they will shoot from the outside," Rolando said. "Unfortunately, we could not stop them from the outside."
The Wildcats came out strong in the third quarter and got some key points from a second unlikely contributor.
Senior defensive specialist Sarah Windecker scored eight points in the third quarter. The senior put her team up 54-51 going into the final period when she banked in a 3-pointer as time expired.
"I knew things were going our way when that shot went in," Hodgson said.
The Tigers came out strong in the fourth quarter and took the lead early on when Natalie McDonald scored on a fast break to put her team up 55-54.
That would be the last field goal Hayden would score until the final buzzer.
The Wildcats responded to McDonald's basket by going on a 6-1 run. For about a two-minute stretch, neither team was able to score.
With about three minutes left, Hayden began to take quick shots and after each miss were forced to foul the Wildcats.
North Park scored nine points from the free throw line in the last three minutes to put the game away.
Hayden was limited to five points in the fourth quarter until McDonald made two free throws with 30 seconds left. Sophomore Adriana Svoboda added a layup as time expired.
The Tigers' inability to score in the fourth quarter was similar to a game the Tigers lost Feb. 8. In a game in Walden, the Tigers scored four points in the final period, which turned a close game into a double-digit win for the Wildcats.
In the final seconds of the game, tears welled up in the eyes of the Tigers.
With a few seconds left in the game, McDonald stood at half-court and wiped away tears with her jersey as a North Park player shot free throws.
For the game, McDonald scored 20 points.
North Park was led in scoring by Windecker and Robben, who had 15 points each. Robben's sister Erin, who was all-conference last year as a freshman, had 13.
Despite the loss, Rolando was proud of McDonald and the other three seniors, who played their last game in a Tigers uniform.
Andrea Orpi, Ashley Bell and Robin Chiaro all played solid. Orpi finished with 11 points, and Bell and Chiaro each had eight.
"They had a good four years," Rolando said. "We made it to regionals three years in a row. This time we just came up a little short.
"Natalie has meant so much to our program. She is irreplaceable. Ashley, Andrea and Robin are not the biggest players, but they battle like warriors. I will miss them a lot."