Oak Creek There’s an almost militaristic efficiency to the Meeker High School girls basketball team that proves why the Cowboys have ascended to the top five in 2A hoops rankings and are a game away from being crowned District 5 champions.
Meeker wins the lose-ball battle, makes the vast majority of its free throws and almost never misses a chance to get its hands on a rebound.
It’s the little things — combined with a roster packed with six seniors — that has the Cowboys ranked as the fifth-best team in all of 2A and headed to the district championship game Saturday after beating Soroco Friday night, 62-45.
The Rams threw the house at their opponent early, forcing the Cowboys into turnovers, grabbing the rebounds Meeker almost never gets beat to and scoring in bunches — a Soroco mainstay this season.
Soroco trailed by two at the end of the first quarter but snagged a three-point lead over Meeker — a team the Rams haven’t beaten since Feb. 12, 2011 — at halftime.
But then in the final two quarters, those little things — the rebounds, hustle plays, free throws — took over, and Soroco managed just 18 points to Meeker’s 34 in the second half.
“We made some adjustments,” Meeker coach Greg Chintala said. “We changed up our defenses several times in the second half just to slow them down. And our defense created an awful lot of offense for us.”
In the first half, it was Soroco freshman DaKota Bruner’s 12 points and four rebounds that fired up the crowd en route to the Rams’ 27-24 advantage heading into the break.
Then in the second half, it was Meeker junior Sydney Hughes’ game-high 23 points — 18 of which came in the final two quarters — that downed Soroco.
“Depth-wise they have quite a bit more than we have,” Rams coach David Bruner said. “We knew we were going to get tired. We played six girls, and they played about nine girls in that first half. That depth got to us in the second half. It showed.”
DaKota Bruner finished with a team-high 14 points. Soroco’s lone senior Jacey Schlegel pitched in 11 points and five rebounds, and junior Jessica Rossi had five points and a game-high 22 rebounds.
Meeker, meanwhile, had three players in double figures — Hughes, Taylor Neilson (11 points, 11 rebounds) and Piper Haney (13 points, 10 rebounds). The Cowboys also coughed up just 10 turnovers to Soroco’s 19.
Regardless, Bruner was impressed with his team’s resolve in the first half and even through a rough second half.
“I really thought for about 22 of the 32 minutes they played state tournament basketball,” Bruner said. “Meeker is ranked fifth in the state, and they (Soroco) just showed they can go toe to toe for at least 16 minutes with a team like that.”
Soroco (15-6) will play the loser of the No. 2 Paonia and No. 3 Hotchkiss matchup at 11 a.m. Saturday. The winner of Saturday's game will take third place in the District 5 tournament.
“These girls are all pretty good about keeping stuff in perspective,” Bruner said. “Their moods are good actually. They aren’t happy, obviously, but they understand where we’re at in the playoffs and the season. This one’s over.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll