By Ryan Kaufman
PUEBLO - Some say that revenge is not the answer. Don't tell that to the Lady Thunderwolves. CSU-Pueblo has avenged another regular season loss on the biggest of stages, knocking off ninth-ranked conference kingpin, Fort Lewis, 70-68 in the RMAC Shootout Seminfinal Friday.
The win sends the Pack to the RMAC shootout championship against Nebraska-Kearney, which takes place Saturday night at 8 p.m. at the Colorado State Fair Events Center.
Last week, the Thunderwolves went to Grand Junction and beat Mesa State, who had bested the Pack twice this season. On Friday afternoon, the Thunderwolves avenged two regular season losses to Fort Lewis to advance to the RMAC Championship. The Pack had to go to overtime to do it, but in what Coach Kip Drown called, "a great college basketball game" they got it done.
In the two previous meetings between CSU-Pueblo and Fort Lewis, the Skyhawks outscored the Thunderwolves by 22 combined 1st half points. But the Pack's Lindsay Black and Mary Rehfeld made sure that this game was close through the first 20 minutes. The two combined for 24 of the Thunderwolves' 34 points in the 1st half.
Despite the great scoring outputs by Black and Rehfeld, Coach Drown thought that defense was the difference in this 1st half.
"I think defensively we have come of age the last three weeks," Drown said.
Unfortunately for the Thunderwolves, late turnovers negated most of the solid defense being played as CSU-Pueblo went to the halftime break only up two points at 34-32.
Everyone at the State Fair Events Center knew the 2nd half would be close. It most certainly was. The teams went back and forth for the first ten minutes of the 2nd half. Then with four minutes left, Mary Rehfeld hit a three-pointer that ended a seven possession scoring drought by the Thunderwolves and brought the Skyhawk lead down to one.
Then Fort Lewis took another hit. The Skyhawks' only senior, Lauren Redfern, fouled out with 2:18 left. With one of the Skyhawks' best post players on the bench, the Thunderwolves went inside often. With less than a minute to go in the 2nd half, Sarah Staggs hit 1 of her 2 free throws to tie the game at 61.
If the Thunderwolves wanted a chance to win this game in regulation, they had to keep the Skyhawks from scoring. CSU-Pueblo's defense held strong and forced a Fort Lewis shot clock violation with 23 seconds left. Only needing a two-point basket to win the game, the Thunderwolves kicked the ball down low to Sarah Staggs. Staggs appeared to be fouled as she shot the ball, but no call was made, the shot was missed, and the game headed into overtime. Coach Drown was none to happy; he thought that a foul should have been called.
When asked what he said to his team headed into overtime, Coach Drown was at a loss. "I don't remember, I was a little fired up," Drown said smiling. "I think I said something like, 'they're not taking this away from us! We're gonna come out and get ‘em."
If that is really what he said, his team listened.
In the extra period, the Thunderwolves were determined not to lose this game. With just under 14 seconds left in overtime, Lindsay Black hit a cutting Mary Rehfeld to put CSU-Pueblo up by two. Then Rehfeld did something she has rarely done this season: make a block. Her 13th block of the season just happened to be as time expired in this game to send the Thunderwolves into the RMAC Championship Game.
The CSU-P players stormed the court, triumphant in victory. The Thunderwolves have now beaten two teams that they lost to twice during the regular season in Mesa State and Fort Lewis. Now they will get a chance for revenge against either Metro State or Nebraska-Kearney, who play in the other semifinal game.
Whoever the opponent is, the Thunderwolves will be playing for much more than just revenge. They will be playing for their 2nd RMAC Shootout title in school history, as well as the second time in the past three seasons, and a berth in the Division-II National Tournament.