Grand Junction Angie Charchalis may never receive a better belated birthday present.
The Moffat County sophomore turned 16 on Friday, but she didn't cut her cake until the next day, after her team unwrapped a 56-51 win against Harrison. The birthday present was a regional championship trophy and an all-expense paid trip for the Moffat County girls to the Class 4A State Basketball Tournament's final four in Boulder.
"It's probably my best birthday ever," she said. "I've never been to Disneyland, so right now Boulder is better."
The fans started cheering, "We're goin' to Boulder" when Charchalis went to the free-throw line with 21.3 seconds left. She hit one of two to put her team up by the final score, 56-51. Charchalis was 7 of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter to help secure the team's first trip to the final four since 1993.
"They just kept fouling me, and I kept hitting them," she said after scoring a game-high 21 points. "They were holding us all game, and in the fourth, we said something to the referee. He started calling it after that."
Two talented teams
The two teams came into Saturday with a combined record of 48-1. Their regional title pairing proved to be a showcase of how they earned success this season.
Harrison's full-court defense, when it was working well, was as advertised on a banner hanging in Mesa State College's Brownson Arena: "Our game is your punishment."
The scrappy and quick Panthers caused the Bulldogs to make poor passes and other turnovers. When the Panthers' press was working, they were earning open shots with steals and keeping Moffat from establishing its half-court offense.
Harrison's defense was at its peak late in the first quarter when it led, 12-6, and late in the third quarter, when it was up, 41-36.
"We really wanted to make them cover all 94 feet of the court," Moffat coach Craig Mortensen said. "When their press prevented that, it was scary."
When Moffat County's half-court defense was working well, it forced Harrison to take guarded and off-balance shots. Quick outlet passes after a rebound and steals from on-the-ball pressure created open shots for the Bulldogs.
"I told our girls that an undefeated team was going to come in with a lot of pride and fight," Harrison coach Tamie Hollon said. "(Moffat) was all over the floor and in our faces on defense."
Moffat's defense came up huge in the fourth quarter.
Harrison made two shots from the field in the final eight minutes. When the Panthers put up a shot, the Bulldogs boxed off and found ways to get the rebound.
"(Harrison) crashed the boards really hard," Moffat senior Mari Katherine Rafto--poulos said. "I thought we did a good job keeping them from getting too many second chances on offense."
The Bulldogs trailed 40-41 at the start of the fourth quarter, but the momentum was on their side. They had rallied back from a 36-41 deficit in the last 1:30 of the third quarter.
Junior Cayla Maneotis made two free throws, and Charchalis made a lay-up off of a steal to give Moffat a 44-41 lead. After Harrison hit two free-throws to get within one, Charchalis sunk two more free-throws and made another lay-up off a steal to put Moffat up, 48-44.
"When Angie gets focused, she is going to hit the big shot," Mortensen said. "When we needed it tonight, she did it."
Harrison put up one more run to get within two points, 51-49, with 1:46 left. But four more free throws from Charchalis iced the game. The Bulldogs were 10-of-13 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter.
Potent post players
Maneotis struggled against Montrose on Friday night on the offensive end. The Indians held her scoreless, but she led the team in rebounds.
Twenty seconds into the game against Harrison, she bettered Friday's effort with the game's first two points.
"I knew I had to do better," she said. "I made that first basket, and I knew it would go better."
Maneotis finished the game with six field goals and 14 points.
None of those points were more important than the six unanswered points she scored when the Bulldogs were down by five at the end of the third quarter. The 6-foot, 5-inch junior scored two field goals at the end of the third quarter and added two free throws at 6:13 left in the fourth quarter to put her team up, 42-41.
"My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball," she said. "We started out better and played better on offense (Saturday). It took one game to warm up."
Maneotis' partner on the blocks, sophomore Markie Workman, finished with 13 points.
All but three of them came in the first half, when Workman was able to get open as the trailer on the press.
Both Bulldogs also made it tough on Harrisons' Alystia Moore, Katherine Harris and Chelsea Lyles. The three combined for 30 points, but they rarely took an open shot and also committed 10 fouls trying to stop the duo of 'Dogs down low.
"We played like us tonight, which included getting important points from Markie and Cayla," Mortensen said. "Friday night, we didn't look like the team we'd been all year, but we recovered tonight."
Nobody let up
There were 10 lead changes and seven ties in the game. Harrison's biggest lead was six points, at 12-6 in the first quarter. Moffat's largest lead was by seven points, 51-44, with 3:40 left in the game.
"There was no let-up in this game by either team," Hollon said. "You never saw a lull."
Moffat handed Harrison its first lost since a Dec. 10 loss to Widefield, 47-45.
"We had a bad shooting night, but a lot of that was because of (Moffat)," Hollon said. "They put so much pressure on us, it was tough to hit shots."
The Bulldogs watched Harri--son wear down Glenwood Springs on Friday night for a 65-48 win, and they knew they couldn't get caught up in the Panthers' press.
"Mort told us we needed to have a systematic approach," Charchalis said. "He meant we couldn't make sloppy passes, and we can't try to outrun them."
Except for a couple of times in the first and third quarters, Mortensen was happy with his team's approach.
"We didn't back down from their pressure," he said. "For the most part, the team did the right things at the right time."
Regis up next
Regis-Jesuit of Denver will be the Bulldogs' next opponent. Regis defeated Silver Creek, 49-36, in the round of eight in Pueblo to win the Tanya Haave Region. Regis and Moffat are both No. 1 seeds in the tournament. The 23-3 Raiders and 25-0 Bulldogs will face each other at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Boulder at the University of Colorado's Coors Event Center.