All that running from missed free throws in practice must have paid off Tuesday for Mikayla Reese and her Sand Creek teammates.
The senior scored 16 points and led an 8-for-8 team effort at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, helping the Scorpions hold off a late comeback effort by Palmer Ridge in a 60-51 home triumph.
Oliana Squires led all scorers with 22 points - and made all three of her free throws - as Sand Creek (12-3, 7-0 4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference) swept the Bears and took command of the league race.
"Every practice in between drills, we shoot free throws, five a person, and we have to make a certain amount," said Reese, who made five of her six free throws. "If we miss, then we run. We do four of those a practice. We're all pretty good at free throws because no one wants to run."
While the Scorpions made 12 of 15 free throws, Palmer Ridge (13-3, 5-2) missed 10 of 20.
Sand Creek scored the first six points of the second quarter and, leading 26-11, looked as if it might roll past the Bears again, much like the 60-30 victory in the first meeting Jan.?7.
This time, Palmer Ridge had the services of Ali Meyer, who injured her left knee in the opening seconds of the first match. The senior scored 12 of her 15 points in the first half, helping to chop the deficit to 28-25 with 3:02 left before halftime.
"When they pick up the pace on defense, it doesn't mean you have to pick up the pace on offense, and they caught us doing that twice," Bears coach Dennis Coates said. "We didn't have good possessions in that period. You're going to have to score to beat them."
Michelle DeCoud, who led the Bears with 16 points, hit a short jumper in the first minute of the third quarter that cut the Sand Creek lead to 31-29. The Scorpions responded with a 14-2 run, highlighted by two outside shots and two assists from Terra Murray.
"No lead is big enough when you're playing a good team," Sand Creek coach Jamie Carey said. "Basketball is a game of runs, and the key is to have enough poise to be able to slow theirs and have our own."
Looking at a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the Bears clawed their way back again, drawing to within two possessions after DeCoud's shot from the top of the key made the score 56-50 with 44 seconds left.
But they could never get over the hump.
"Somehow, we found a way to dig deep," DeCoud said. "That comes from the encouragement of everyone on the team. We didn't win, but it's better than a 30-point loss, and we proved we can scrap and keep up with them."