LAKEWOOD — Kelly Pickens’ start to the 2007-08 girls basketball season couldn’t have gone much worse.
On the first day of practice at Chatfield Senior High School, the senior forward broke the metacarpal bone in her left hand.
Saturday, in just her second game back, Pickens showed no signs of rust. She calmly knocked down all six of her free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, helping the Chargers pick up a 48-43 victory over rival Columbine in the teams’ final game of the Jefferson County tournament at Lakewood High School.
“It’s really nice to be back,” said Pickens, who scored 12 points. “I was sort of part of the team, but now I’m actually a part of the team and I feel more attached to the wins and losses.”
While the Chargers (7-6) certainly missed Pickens, one positive that came out of her injury was the accelerated development of the team’s underclassmen.
“The girls have really matured,” Pickens said. “Cass(andra) Hanna, she’s gotten a lot more comfortable handling the ball, and the other girls have become more comfortable. With me being gone, Chrissy (Armstrong) and Chelsea (O’Brien) have gotten to play more and they’ve both improved a lot.”
Junior guard Dilan Sutliff said that with Pickens back in the lineup, the Chargers have a better sense of direction.
“When we played Evergreen and Golden (both losses), we weren’t really gelling as a team and girls didn’t know their spots,” Sutliff said. “Now we know who can do what the best and how to play with each other.”
Saturday’s game was a battle of runs. Chatfield held the Rebels to just two points in the second quarter and led 22-14 at halftime. Columbine revved up its defensive intensity in the third quarter, continually pressing the Chargers, forcing Chatfield to commit 10 turnovers in the quarter. Columbine outscored Chatfield 16-5 in the third and led 30-27 entering the fourth quarter.
“They turned up the intensity, but I thought a lot of our turnovers were self-imposed,” Chatfield coach Jeff Mages said. “We got jittery there for a little bit, but the girls calmed down and played better in the fourth quarter.”
The Chargers did do a better job of handling Columbine’s pressure in the fourth quarter and moved out in front, 39-36, on Sutliff’s second 3-pointer of the quarter with 4 minutes remaining.
“I had a good practice on Friday,” said Sutliff, who finished with four 3-pointers and 15 points. “The inside players were doing a good job of getting the ball out, so I had a lot of open shots.”
The Rebels (4-8) knotted the score at 41 on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Demitra Apergis (15 points) with 2:35 to go. Pickens then hit two free throws and Ali Grush converted on a layup off a Columbine turnover with 1:26 remaining to put the Chargers up 45-41.
Columbine drew within two when Randee Hayes hit 1-of-2 free throws with 31 seconds on the clock, but the Rebels would get no closer thanks to Pickens and Sutliff’s accuracy at the line.
“It’s so much fun,” Pickens said of playing Columbine. “They are our biggest rival and I’m friends with a lot of girls on that team, so it’s always fun to play them. It was really important for us to get a win with us having to play Dakota (Ridge) next week.”