Lady Eagles’ run ends in Great Eight

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Smith, Fossil Ridge knock off Dakota Ridge in the regional finals at the Denver Coliseum

By Michael Hicks

DENVER — There was a coaching change and there were some injuries, yet somehow, some way the Dakota Ridge Lady Eagles were playing in the 5A Great Eight. The end result — a 50-40 loss to top-seeded Fossil Ridge in the Sharon Wilch Regional finals March 6 at the Denver Coliseum — couldn’t take away from the season that was for the Lady Eagles.
“We’re thrilled to be here in the first place, and nothing has changed. We knew that we had to put together the perfect game to have it be a little bit closer,” said Dakota Ridge head coach Rich Gavelda, who took over six weeks earlier after Doug Maier left the position. “Really the way we finished is representative of what these guys are. They worked that hard when I was the JV coach at varsity practice. They worked that hard when I became the varsity coach. It never stopped. These girls have a great passion for the game. Really they’ve come together as teammates. They really played for each other this past week and half, and that didn’t stop tonight.”
Unfortunately, sixth-seeded Dakota Ridge (19-8), the lowest remaining seed in the 5A state tournament, had no answers for Fossil Ridge’s Savannah Smith, who finished with a game-high 29 points as the Lady Sabercats took the lead behind a 12-3 first-quarter run and never looked back. Fossil Ridge (25-1), which advanced to the Final Four on March 13 at Boulder’s Coors Events Center against Grandview, went up by as much as 17 points in the third quarter and 23 in the fourth before Dakota Ridge got back to within eight points in the final minute.
It didn’t help that the Lady Eagles’ top two players — Jae Ferrin and Lauren Wood — each had three fouls by halftime. Ferrin, who finished with a team-high 18 points, was 0-for-4 from the field in the first half, and Dakota Ridge had 14 of its 24 turnovers in the first 16 minutes.
“It took a while to adjust to the shooting,” Ferrin said.
Fossil Ridge’s Kellee Willer and Brooke Pemberton also had something to do with Dakota Ridge’s inefficiency early on, Gavelda said. They were able to match Ferrin’s and Wood’s strength in the low post, he said, something that many teams haven’t been able to do this season.
Sophomore guard Caitlin Navratil finished with 15 points and Wood had 12 for Dakota Ridge. Jessica LeBaron scored the team’s other five points.
It will be up to players such as LeBaron and Navratil to carry the load in 2014-15 for Dakota Ridge with Wood and Ferrin among five seniors graduating, but there’s little question that this year’s senior class left quite an impression.
“The big thing is that they taught me a lot about winning and how to keep the energy going. Next year, I can carry that on to my teammates,” Navratil said.
Dakota Ridge had won three straight and nine of 11 before the season-ending defeat. A second-round upset of third-seeded Pine Creek had a lot to do with the Lady Eagles getting to where they did in 2013-14, and they’ll cherish the accomplishment.
“There’s a reason that we’re here. I’m so happy that we’re here,” Wood said. “It hurts right now, but nobody expected us to get this far. I’m really proud that we got here.”


Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.