Thursday night’s clutch free throws by Grand Valley senior Bailey Radel withstood a 21-13 fourth-quarter charge by St. Mary’s as the Lady Cardinals cruised to a 52-50 win to secure themselves. qualify for the State 3A Semi-Finals.
The No. 4 Cardinals will now face top seed Platte Valley at 7 p.m. Friday for the right to play for a state championship Saturday afternoon at the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium. The loser of this match will play for third place.
Leading 28-17 at halftime against St. Mary’s, the Cardinals survived two second-half scoring spurts by the No. 12 Pirates, early in the third period and again late in the game. But the 3A Western Slope champions were up to the task.
“The girls kept their cool and really believed in themselves the whole game,” Grand Valley head coach Scott Parker said in a postgame phone interview. “Really, the body language wasn’t much different from the first quarter to the fourth. We’ve been consistent which is good to see at this stage.
Both teams entered the quarter-finals with identical records of 20-4. Grand Valley led 11-9 after the first quarter, then opened it up in the second to take the lead 11 points at halftime behind Radel and junior AbbeyRose Parker’s 11 points in the first half each.
Radel had three 3-pointers at halftime and the Cardinals edged the Pirates 13-8.
St. Mary’s came out hot to start the third quarter, scoring eight unanswered points to shoot within three, 28-25, before the Cardinals finally found the back of the net midway through the period on a Radel shot .
Parker went 33-25 on a knockdown shot with 2:10, then drained one from beyond the 3-point arc at 1:40 to give the Cardinals a 36-25 lead.
Radel found the basket deep underhand late in the period, and the Cardinals once again had a commanding lead, 38-25.
St. Mary’s brought it back to 10, 39-29, going into the final quarter, under the hot hand of senior Ellie Hartman, who led all scorers on the night with 26 points.
Grand Valley held on to the advantage throughout the fourth, but not without some nail-biting in the stands from the contingent of Parachute fans who are on hand in Denver to cheer on the Cardinals.
Holding a 44-37 lead with five minutes remaining, Grand Valley saw the Pirates slowly drift away until that lead was reduced to one, 44-43, with 1:16 remaining.
Then it was the spectacle of Radel and Parker from the free throw line. Radel drained six consecutive free throws and was 8-for-8 on the night, and Parker made a pair of clutch free throws herself before missing two with just over 3 seconds left, giving St Mary’s a chance to win at the finish.
After St. Mary’s managed to put the ball in the half court and called a timeout, the game ended in a comeback to Hartman, who turned to shoot but immediately found himself face to face with Parker and the shooting went nowhere.
Parker and Radel finished with 19 points apiece for the Cardinals, who are now 21-4.
“It was a great atmosphere, and just a great place,” Coach Parker said. “We had a lot of people in the crowd there and we really appreciate that support.”
Platte Valley, the defending 3A state champions and 51-29 winners over No. 8 Lamar on Thursday, will be a big test Friday night for the Cardinals.
“We’re going to have to play well, but we played well, so as long as we keep playing our game and playing calmly like we did tonight, it’s anybody’s game,” Parker said. .
The only other Western Slope team in the state tournament, No. 10 Delta, lost to No. 2 University earlier in the day, 44-32. The other quarter-final saw No. 3 The Vanguard School win 39-35 over No. 11 Colorado Springs Christian.
Senior Reporter/Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or [email protected].com.