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Air Force women's basketball upsets first-place Wyoming in a storybook home finale

February 27, 2018 Updated: February 28, 2018 at 8:22 am
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The Air Force women's basketball team celebrates a 57-47 victory over first-place Wyoming on Tuesday night at Clune Arena. (BRENT BRIGGEMAN)

Cortney Porter held it together until she tried to sing the last words of The Third Verse.

Hands locked with teammates, that’s when four years of losses and frustrations wallowed up in the Air Force senior as she braced to lift her arms in victory and walk out of this building as a player for the last time in the most improbable, only-in-a-sports-movie kind of way.

“I fell apart,” she said. “I started bawling. ... I can’t even describe my happiness in words.”

Air Force defeated Wyoming 57-47 on Tuesday night, and Porter’s tears after an 11-point, four-assist, three-steal performance only scratched at the surface of what took place for a program that had been 10-106 in her career.

The Falcons (4-24, 4-13 Mountain West), who entered in last place, knocked off the conference leader. The win ensures that Air Force won’t finish last in the league for the first time since it expanded to 11 teams in 2013-14. The Falcons’ four conference victories tie a program record since joining the Mountain West.

Freshman Kaelin Immel broke the team’s single-season scoring record (during the Division I era that began in 1995) with 408 points. She passed Raimee Beck's 405 points in 2009-10.

And, if you’re into wild moments, Mesa Ridge product Venessannah Itugbu made the first 3-pointer of her career (spanning 80 games and 1,422 minutes) when she beat the third-quarter buzzer to give the Falcons the lead.

This night seriously had it all.

But the focal points of the evening were the seniors, even as Immel led with 19 points and fellow freshman Emily Conroe had 13 points and 12 rebounds. The program is banking on many more opportunities for that duo to bask in big victories, but it was growing ever doubtful that this outgoing class would get to enjoy a signature moment like this until the Falcons began to pull away thanks to a 9-of-9 showing from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and a defensive effort that netted 13 turnovers with four blocked shots.  

“Amen. I’m so happy for them,” coach Chris Gobrecht said. “Those kids have been through it. They’ve gotten better and I’m really proud of their growth and how much better they’ve gotten as players. They’ve lost a lot of basketball games. This was something they deserve and I just couldn’t be happier.”

The only hitch of the night came in the first quarter when senior Erika Chapman left with an injured ankle and didn’t return.

Immel said the sight of the senior on crutches served as added motivation.

“It’s so cool to be able to do something like that for them when they’ve been through so much in this program,” Immel said. “It was so awesome. I admire them so much.”

Wyoming (20-8, 13-4) was without leading scorer Liv Roberts, who did not play because of an illness. The Cowgirls, who average 62.7 points in league play, scored just six in the first quarter.

“They had not seen us, and we are different,” Gobrecht said. “We tend to throw teams’ rhythms off. When you play a team that has a lot of rhythm to their offense and you can throw them off, you’ve got a shot.”

The Falcons close the season at San Jose State on Friday with a chance to finish as high as eighth in the standings.

That’s in the future, though. And the future has made up most of the talk around this program for three years since the veteran Gobrecht arrived. On this night, for once, it was about what was happening in the moment. And this parched group of seniors that also included Dee Bennett drank it in.

“There was so much joy, so much screaming, so much cheering (in the locker room),” said Porter, the program’s all-time Division I leader in steals and assists. “It’s just such a great feeling, especially on senior night, to go out like that.

“It was an awesome feeling to know we won the last time I played here at Clune.”

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