One week after Rifle defeated the Steamboat Springs girls basketball team by 18 points, the Sailors responded on their court Saturday, winning 44-38, in the team's biggest victory of the season and the first defining win of first-year coach Ashley Berggren's career.
"I'm so proud of these girls," Berggren said. "They worked so hard. I'm finally happy they can celebrate."
Did they ever. With streamers, balloons and a broken piÃ±ata hanging from the ceiling, junior Tara King, who finished with 14 rebounds, said that Saturday was the night the Sailors decided to break through.
"We came together as a team and asked, 'Do we want this?'" she said.
Steamboat answered the question by outscoring Rifle 17-9 in the fourth quarter, switching between man and zone defense and responding to every Rifle basket with one of its own.
Junior Jessica Peters made one free throw with 23 seconds left to give Steamboat a four-point lead. Freshman Kendall Babler's attempt to pull Rifle back to within two didn't fall, and the Bears had to foul. Junior Missy Chotvacs, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds as the point guard, calmly sank both her free throws with 10 seconds left. Babler finished with 11 points to lead the Bears.
When the final horn sounded, it felt as if everyone -- Steamboat players, parents and coaches -- took a second or two to exhale before they realized the Sailors had pulled out the biggest win of the year thus far.
"They fought so hard," Berggren said. "They kept their composure. They played like veterans. We've been in a lot of situations, four or five close games, and we capitalized on what we needed to do (Saturday)."
King said the team wanted to win for seniors Kayla Kostur, Madison Proper and Katie Darlington, who likely played their final home game of the year unless Steamboat hosts a postseason contest.
If it was Kostur's final game in Steamboat, she ended in style, scoring a game-high 21 points, including 15 in the second half, dominating inside while Rifle post Montanah Matthies sat on the bench in foul trouble. Kostur also pulled down eight rebounds.
But it was King's presence on the boards in the second half that made the difference for the Sailors. Steamboat struggled to keep Rifle off the offensive glass in the third quarter, and the Bears built as much as a seven-point lead with 2:09 to go. The Sailors were in a zone defense, so it was tougher to account for each Bears player, and every loose ball seemed to go Rifle's way.
Not in the fourth quarter, when King refused to let anyone else get the ball. Limiting Rifle to one shot helped Steamboat build a lead.
"At halftime, I decided I wasn't really doing anything offensively, so I knew I needed to contribute somehow," King said. "At halftime, I came out. I wanted to beat to Rifle."
The win moves Steamboat to 8-10 overall and 6-4 in the Western Slope League. Rifle drops to 14-4 overall and 7-3 in league play.