The Pusch Ridge Christian Lions lost the Division-II regional tournament final to Palo Verde 42-41 on Saturday.
The result wasn’t that disappointing, as the endgame for the Lions all along was to qualify for the state playoffs, and possibly earn a home playoff game.
Noelle Soltero led the Lions with 14 points, while Gabrielle Courtney scored 12. Moriah Roters yanked down 13 rebounds.
The loss ended a week of achievement and excitement for the Lions, as they will now open the Division II-State Playoffs at home on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m.
The Lions (16-5) are the ninth seed.
On Jan. 11, the Lions ended Flowing Wells’ 26-game win streak, winning 41-37 to reach the regional title game.
Courtney led the Lions with 11 points, while Abby Maas added 10.
However, it was their win over Cholla, 47-32, on Jan. 9 that earned the Lions a berth in the state playoffs.
If defense wins championships, then the season-long preaching of coach Lonnie Tvrdy has been well received.
“Defense is what coach pushes us to do,” said Moriah Roters, who led the Lions with 13 points, shooting 6-9 from the floor.
The Lions forced 10 turnovers in the first half, as they built a 27-13 halftime lead over the Chargers. More importantly, they held Cholla to 30 percent shooting in the first half, and a mere 28 percent for the game.
“We hang our hat on our defense,” Tvrdy said. “We have to play ball pressure.”
The Lions made their shots in the first half. They opened the second quarter with an 11-2 run and a three-pointer by Maas with seven seconds left, which helped them open a 27-13 halftime lead.
Their shooting percentage of 46 percent in the first half was more than adequate.
Winning the contest was not as easy as the final margin would make it appear.
“I didn’t think we played that well for most of the game,” Tvrdy said. “Give Cholla credit. They’re unorthodox and are hard to defend. They have many girls who can handle the ball well.”
Post player Marcianna Granillo stepped up and made a couple of shots, as Cholla opened the third with a 6-0 run to cut the Lions lead to 27-19.
Meanwhile, the Lions missed their first seven shots.
With 2:53 left, Roters made a layup, was fouled, and sank a free throw to extend it back to a 33-20 lead.
“We got tired in the second half,” Tvrdy said. “Three or four girls were battling colds.”
Roters expressed the team chemistry that enabled the Lions to nearly win the regional tournament.
“We’re really unified like sisters,” Roters said. “Everyone knows what they’re doing.”
Courtney had nine points, and Soltero added seven for the Lions.
Shantiel Lopez of Cholla led all scorers with 16 points, while Granillo scored 11.
When the Lions moved up the equivalent of two classifications, it would’ve been easy to feel intimidated, or as if they didn’t belong in Division II.
When the season began, how did Roters feel about it?
“I was nervous at first,” Roters said. “Then we got used to it after a few games.”
The Lions have been shorter than many of their Division-II opponents.
Roters doesn’t think the Lions are bothered by their lack of height, because she feels that you don’t need height to pull down rebounds.
The loss to Palo Verde ended the Lions 9-game winning streak.