Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs girls basketball team defeated Montezuma-Cortez in the opening round of district play Thursday, assuring the Sailors of advancing to next week's regional tournament.
Steamboat's 56-43 victory means the Sailors (16-4 overall) can finish no worse than fourth at the three-day tournament in Grand Junction. The top five teams at the district tournament advance to the regional tournament at sites yet to be determined.
"We played really well, really well," coach Steve Moos said.
With a No. 2 seed in their hands, the Sailors dropped their final two regular-season games to Glenwood Springs and Rifle last weekend to fall to No. 5 behind Moffat County, Montrose, Rifle and Montezuma-Cortez.
Moos said he didn't discuss what went wrong last weekend as the team prepared for the district tournament this week. Instead, he reminded his girls of the brand of basketball that made them successful.
On Thursday night they responded.
"The effort was back," Moos said. "We had hard practices this week. We had good intensity. We wanted to get back to where we were. We like to press and play full court. That's who we are."
Steamboat held Montezuma-Cortez's dangerous 3-point shooters and all-around player Stefanie Allison in check. They combined for 24 points, as Anya Allen and Bailey Draper, the Sailors' defensive stoppers, made the Panthers' perimeter players work hard to get open looks.
Meanwhile, Sailors Jannike Combs and Shelley Dunlop contributed 31 points between them. Dunlop, a junior reserve, also had 14 rebounds, half of which came on the offensive glass.
"Shelley played outstanding," Moos said. "She was controlling on both ends."
Steamboat led after the first quarter and went into the locker room at the half with a comfortable 31-21 lead. Montezuma-Cortez cut Steamboat's lead to seven in the third quarter but couldn't get any closer as the senior-dominated Sailors went on to win by 13 points.
Nine of the Panthers' 21 points in the first half came from the free-throw line, so Moos challenged his team at the half to cut down on the fouls and make Montezuma-Cortez earn its points in the final two quarters.
Even with a full-court press in operation, the Sailors stayed out of foul trouble and kept the Panthers off the line to close out the game.
"In the fourth quarter we were patient," Moos said. "We took time on offense and were solid on defense. We were pretty much in control the whole game."
Steamboat's next opponent will be league-rival Moffat County. The Bulldogs have defeated the Sailors twice this season. In the teams' last meeting, on Feb. 11, the Bulldogs won by six.
Steamboat's game against Moffat County begins at 6:30 p.m. today at Mesa State College in Grand Junction.