Kent Chrisman stood at half court inside the Tiger Den, with a wide smile across his face, and tears of joy slowly filling his eyes following Saturday's round-of-16 game of the Class 3A girls' basketball state tournament.
It's been nearly 20 years since Chrisman, now in his fifth season as the Sterling girls' basketball coach, was in charge of a team that made it to the quarterfinals.
That drought came to an end on Saturday as the No. 3 Tigers defeated 2013 state runners-up St. Mary's 50-33 to secure a spot at the Air Force Academy next week.
"I'm so proud of the girls. This is just awesome for them," Chrisman said. "For me, personally, the last time I was at the great eight as a head coach was almost 20 years ago, so that part is going to be nice."
After scoring a season-high 98 points and cruising to a 98-38 win over Aurora West College Prep Academy on Friday, the Tigers had their hands full early Saturday.
Despite committing eight turnovers in the first quarter, the Pirates were down just 14-11 after the first quarter. They pulled even with at the 6:47 mark of the second quarter after a 3-pointer by sophomore Sophie Rickey.
But after Rickey's basket tied the game at 14, Sterling finished the half on an 11-2 run.
In the third quarter, the Tigers started to put some distance between themselves and the Pirates.
After surviving eight first-quarter turnovers, St. Mary's was not as fortunate in the third, as the Tigers converted another eight turnovers by the Pirates into 10 points to balloon the lead to 41-23 heading to the fourth.
"We just had too many turnovers and unforced errors that we normally don't make, and Sterling did a good job taking advantage of them," St. Mary's coach Mike Burkett said. "We got to where we were moving the ball around the perimeter a little bit too much and we weren't attacking, but give them (Tigers) credit. They played great defense, kept us spread out and stopped us from penetrating the middle of the paint."
St. Mary's tried to climb back into the game as it made a 7-0 run to begin the fourth to close to within 11 with 3:39 remaining. But a 9-0 run by the Tigers cut any hopes of a Pirates rally.
Freshman Olivia Florek led the Pirates with 11 points. While the loss is disappointing for the Pirates, Burkett said he is encouraged about what the team can do next year with 11 of their 12 varsity players set to return.
"We are excited about what we bring back next year," Burkett said. "We have our work cut out for us, but we know what it takes to get to an elite level and that's what we're going to work toward."