By Craig Harper
For the Courier
History suggested the Conifer girls basketball team was doomed once again. The Lady Lobos, fifth in the 4A Jeffco League at 6-7, trailed rival Evergreen (third in the league at 10-3) by five points at halftime of their Feb. 21 regular-season finale. Until then, that had been a recipe for disaster for Mick Gorrell’s team.
But, spurred by Becca Hammon and Kirstin Hafeman, the Lady Lobos decided enough was enough. The duo sparked a third-quarter turnaround that led to a 67-58 home victory for a Conifer team badly in need of making a statement against the Jeffco’s upper echelon.
“It’s the best win we’ve had all season,” Gorrell said. “We’ve struggled to beat the quality teams. We finally put together four quarters of quality basketball.”
Before beating Evergreen, Conifer had gone 0-7 against Jeffco’s top four teams, including a 67-45 road loss to the Lady Cougars. The win gave the Lady Lobos a 12-11 regular-season record.
“I think we’re playing our best basketball of the season right now,” added Gorrell, whose team had won three straight before a 62-52 loss to second-place Green Mountain earlier in the week. “Despite losing on Tuesday it was one of the best games we’ve played. And it carried over. It’s kind of hard to believe in yourself until you beat one of the premier teams. They’re really starting to believe in themselves now.”
“It means so much, and all the work we’ve been putting in,” said Hammon. “This game was going to decide if we’d have a winning season or a losing season.”
Gorrell admitted he didn’t know how his team would respond to the 32-27 halftime deficit, which increased to eight points thanks to five early third-quarter points by Evergreen’s Emily Elmgreen. But Conifer’s defense and the offense of Hammon and Hafeman fueled a 20-7 run for the rest of the period and a 49-44 lead.
“We’ve definitely been working on our third quarter,” Hammon said. “We had a lapse at the beginning of the year and I think we’ve turned it around and kind of figured out how to come out right after halftime.”
Hammon and Hafeman combined for 15 points in the third quarter and Conifer’s defense forced Evergreen into 3-of-17 shooting and six turnovers. Hammon scored nine of her 27 points (one shy of her season high) in the quarter, Hafeman (12 points) hit two baskets early in the run and Jaclyn Lean (8) started it with a three-pointer. Evergreen (15-8 overall) was 3-of-20 shooting in the fourth quarter and finished 16-of-62 (.258) for the game.
“The run we made in the third quarter was fueled by our defensive pressure,” Gorrell said. “We really couldn’t get them to make that many mistakes in the first half, but there was a stretch there where we did. I think also the willfulness of Becca Hammon and Kirstin Hafeman set the tone for the whole team.”
“I was definitely worried going in; it’s one of those rivalry games,” said Evergreen coach Amy Bahl. “They made some shots and we got a little hesitant on the offensive side. Instead of fighting back and with the whole atmosphere, it kind of deflated us a little bit.”
Elmgreen (23) and sophomore Samantha Kisiel (21) combined for all but 14 of Evergreen’s points, but they, too, struggled from the floor, going 13-of-39.
“Normally when those two score things are more in our favor,” Bahl said of her team’s two leading scorers. “We just couldn’t hit our shots. We definitely needed more from everyone shooting percentage-wise.”
Evergreen played its second game without Hannah Orr (concussion), who had replaced Erin Morrato (knee) in the starting lineup. Morrato came off the bench and was expected to start in the Lady Cougars’ state-tournament opener.