Published: March 10, 2014
Gabby Purnell was determined not to let that same terrible feeling happen to her and her Mesa Ridge teammates in the Class 4A girls' basketball state quarterfinals.
The senior point guard remembered vividly how it felt to get eliminated in a 54-33 loss to Pueblo South last season in the quarterfinals after the Grizzlies started 25-0.
"She took it personal when we lost in the round of eight last year," Mesa Ridge coach Jeff Beatty said. "We wouldn't be where we are without her. She's the important key factor that makes us go."
Purnell was going at full speed when she scored 22 points in Mesa Ridge's 47-41 win over D'Evelyn on Saturday at the Denver Coliseum to help the Grizzlies improve to 26-0.
On a team full of weapons, Purnell is the floor general. Beatty says she calls most of the offensive plays and is the one who makes sure everyone is where they need to be on the court.
"I go out there and look at what the opponent is giving us, and then call the plays based on what the other team is trying to do against us," said Purnell, who averages 13 points and five assists. "My teammates know I'm hard on them sometimes, but it's out of love. I have confidence in my team, and that showed Saturday. We're all excited to make it this far, and we're prepared."
Purnell is used to seeing defenses collapse into the paint to try to shut down Mesa Ridge's two talented post players - Kylee Shook and Sami Rudd.
When a team decides to make Mesa Ridge beat it from the outside, Purnell is more than happy to oblige.
"We're so well balanced that every team is going to attack us a different way, which has led to our guards scoring more," Beatty said. "You pick your poison with us, and they picked Gabby as their poison."
It wasn't a good choice for D'Evelyn, as Purnell went 9 for 11 from the field and torched the Jaguars' defense all night.
Mesa Ridge is into the state semifinals for the second time in school history - 2011 being the other. There's a familiar face awaiting the Grizzlies on Thursday night - Pueblo South.
"The fire from last year is definitely still there, and we're ready for our revenge," Purnell said. "This year we're more prepared and we have more experience. We knew that we were going to meet them at this time. We didn't look ahead, but we knew who we wanted to see in the final four, and we got it."
An important note about the rematch is that Shook - the Grizzlies' top scorer and rebounder - didn't play in last year's loss due to injury.
Beatty has seen Purnell grow as a player the past four seasons, and says she's at her all-time best when it matters most.
"She works so hard, and her determination since last season has been intensified," he said. "She was great last year and came back this year even better. She's a huge reason we're moving on."