CONIFER — Alison Gorrell is Conifer’s best player, but the argument can certainly be made for Cara Walderman being the team’s most valuable.
As the Lobos tangled with cross-town rival Evergreen on Jan. 9, Gorrell was held relatively in check by the Cougars, who managed to hold the super sophomore to just two field goals thanks to a highly effective box-in-one defense.
With all the extra attention focused on Gorrell, the No. 9 Lobos needed someone else to step up in the scoring department.
Walderman answered the challenge nicely, finishing with a game-high 19 points, including five in the closing minute that helped seal Conifer’s 54-44 victory over Evergreen in a Class 4A Jefferson County League game at Conifer High School.
“We worked on (the box-in-one) in practice because we knew it was going to come,” Walderman said. “We knew with (Gorrell) being out of the offense that other players were going to have to step up and that’s exactly what we did.”
It wasn’t just Walderman who produced extra in the absence of Gorrell (she still finished with 12 points) as reserve Katie Ellerman scored nine of her 11 points in the decisive quarter.
The Lobos led by seven midway through the third quarter when Walderman was forced to the bench after picking up her fourth foul.
Evergreen (2-1 Jeffco, 6-5 overall) quickly capitalized, scoring the final seven points of the quarter, including a buzzer-beating jumper by Jordan Florschuetz that gave the visitors a one-point leading entering the fourth quarter.
Ellerman (11 points) opened the quarter with a jumper to give Conifer (3-0, 9-2) a lead it would never relinquish.
The sophomore was cool under pressure at the free-throw line, knocking down 7-of-8 attempts; the final two pushing Conifer’s lead to 51-42 with 1 minute, 16 seconds to play. Walderman closed out the scoring with a layup and free throw.
“We didn’t have the best first half,” Walderman said. “We talked about it at halftime and we did a good job in the second half of not letting the pressure or the crowd get to us.”
Both the Cougars and Lobos feature teams made up of more sophomores and juniors than seniors, but it was the home team that appeared a little more comfortable in the big-game environment. Evergreen, though, trailed by just two at 44-42 following a Steph Wiens layup, but managed just two points down the stretch.
The Cougars, as they’ve shown all season, can play with anyone when they take good care of the basketball. Against Conifer, Evergreen committed 25 turnovers. Thanks to its defense, Evergreen was able to overcome the mistakes and traded baskets with the Lobos for three-and-a-half quarters before running out of gas late in the fourth.
“It’s hard because sometimes we look so good offensively, and then sometimes we force the issue and you can tell we’re young just by the mistakes we make,” Evergreen coach Ali Johnston said. “But, my girls played hard and that’s the best I’ve seen them play, especially defensively, all year long.”
As the Lobos get deeper and deeper into the season, expectations continue to rise for the team, which finds itself ranked in the top-10 for the first time in recent memory.
“I told the girls before the game, ‘we’re ranked No. 9, what do we do with it?’” Conifer coach Jon Marston said. “Do we sit on it or do we continue to work hard and get better? The girls have shown they want to work hard, so my hope is that we’ll continue to improve and play good basketball.”
Thanks to the home-and-home scheduling implemented by Jeffco, the two mountain rivals will meet again – this time on Evergreen’s home floor.
Evergreen: Kelsey Bestall 2 1-1 5, Tayler Warren 1 2-3 4, Haley Stading 1 1-2 3, Grace Beaudin 3 2-2 9, Katie Helf 1 4-6 6, Steph Wiens 3 1-1 7, Jordan Florschuetz 4 2-3 10. Totals: 15 13-18 44.
Conifer: Cara Walderman 6 6-8 19, Amanda Hisel 2 0-0 4, Sam Mohrman 2 2-4 6, Molly Sears 0 1-2 1, Alison Gorrell 2 8-9 12, Bailey Miller 0 1-2 1, Katie Ellerman 2 7-8 11. Totals: 14 25-33 54.
3-pt. goals: Beaudin; Walderman.