The fresh-faced Manitou Springs girls' basketball team wasn't quite ready for what it experienced Thursday night at the Air Force Academy.
The seventh-seeded Mustangs simply couldn't do enough on offense in a 48-34 loss to No. 2 Pagosa Springs in the 3A state quarterfinals, and first-time jitters were a main factor.
It wasn't due to lack of hustle; Manitou Springs (18-7) gave the undefeated Pirates (24-0) everything it had, and some. It just wasn't enough.
"I think we were all a little bit in shock at the beginning, and we were nervous," said Manitou Springs freshman Shelby Megyeri, who led the team with 10 points. "This was a new atmosphere for all of us, and I don't know if everyone was mentally prepared."
By the time Manitou Springs found its offense, the hole was too deep. The Mustangs allowed Pagosa Springs to take a 27-9 lead in the third quarter before they mounted a comeback.
Manitou Springs used a 14-6 run to cut the lead to 33-23 entering the fourth quarter, but couldn't get much closer than that in the final eight minutes. Inexperience led to too many careless turnovers and missed shots on the offensive end.
"Pagosa was here last year, and they had their experience at state," Manitou Springs coach Jon Asp said. "Was that the deciding factor? Maybe. Pagosa is a good team, but we didn't play our game and hurt ourselves a lot."
Manitou Springs has a roster comprised of four freshmen, three sophomores and two seniors. Nobody on the roster had ever competed in a state quarterfinal game. The Mustangs were definitely a year ahead of schedule.
The first taste of playing on the big stage will do nothing but motivate the young Mustangs, who hope this is the first of several consecutive trips to state.
"We have a good chance to be here - and go further than this - the next three years," Megyeri said.
Last season, Manitou Springs lost in the regional final. This time, the Mustangs went one step more, and they hope next season they can keep ascending the playoff staircase.
"I think we can definitely make it all the way next year; we could've this year with the talent we have," said sophomore McKenzi Petricko, who had nine points. "We were all very nervous and it was rough in the locker room before the game. It just came down to too many mistakes during crunch time."
Asp, in his first year as the Mustangs' coach, says there's a lot for Mustangs fans to look forward to.
"It should be a good next few years; there's a lot of talent and hopefully this experience will help," Asp said. "We have a great chance to win state titles the next three years if we come together and keep improving."