Published: March 8, 2014
DENVER - The final 4 minutes, 40 seconds seemed like an eternity for Gabby Purnell and the rest of her Mesa Ridge girls' basketball team.
And after the Grizzlies gutted out a 47-41 victory over D'Evelyn on Saturday in a 4A quarterfinal playoff at the Denver Coliseum, the Grizzlies senior looked as if a huge weight had just been taken off her shoulders.
Nearly a year to the day earlier, the Grizzlies lost their undefeated mark, and their season, at the hands of eventual 4A state champion Pueblo South in the quarterfinals on the same floor.
"It took forever, and I just told everyone to keep holding on," said Purnell, who led all scorers with 22 points and also added three assists. "To get past this game and be a step closer to a state championship, it feels great. We're a much better team than we were last year."
Mesa Ridge (26-0) will get its long-awaited rematch with Pueblo South (24-2) in a 4A semifinal game Thursday in Boulder. South easily handled Elizabeth, 36-21 later Saturday.
Mesa Ridge didn't have injured star Kylee Shook for its last loss, but on Saturday, the Grizzlies were at full strength and never trailed.
Purnell scored 10 consecutive points in the third quarter, then set up Tiffani Jackson's buzzer-beating shot to end the quarter that gave the Grizzles a 35-24 lead.
"She does everything for us," Grizzlies coach Jeff Beatty said. "She shoots, handles the ball well, and it just extraordinary. She's our floor general who takes care of business for us, and everyone shares the ball."
Kaylee Gatzke's layup off a pass from Shook ended a 10-2 run to start the fourth quarter and extended the Grizzlies' lead to 45-26 with 4:40 left.
Then D'Evelyn (21-5) finally found its offensive rhythm, going on a 13-0 run - the Jaguars scored only eight points in each of the first three quarters - that cut the Mesa Ridge deficit to 45-39 with 1:08 to go.
Malia Shappell scored 10 of her team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter, but the Jaguars couldn't complete the comeback.
"We've struggled with that, when we finally start playing in the fourth quarter," said Shappell, who will start her collegiate career at Colorado College later this year. "They smothered us, and we couldn't get anything going against a really good team. We came up short."