Paonia tops Soroco girls in regional championship game
Rifle — Making three consecutive regional championship games and leaving with the most career wins in school history is no small accomplishment.
Still, Saturday’s season-ending loss to Paonia wasn’t easy to accept for Soroco High School senior Briana Peterson and the Rams’ girls basketball team.
“I’m proud of my team. It sucks to lose, but we all played with heart and never gave up,” Peterson said. “I’m really proud of my class and other classes before us, helping us get those wins.”
The Rams lost, 53-41, to top-seeded Paonia (22-2) in their Class 2A Region 3 championship game, played Saturday at Rifle High School. The loss ends Soroco’s season with a 20-4 overall record and its two four-year seniors — Briana Peterson and Kali Constine — having won 69 games over their careers, a program record.
“They had a 20-win season, which is only the second one in the history of the girls’ program. So they’ve done a lot of great things,” Soroco coach David Bruner said. “You don’t replace seniors, you just try to reload, and that’s what we’ve done in the past.”
Soroco’s season has ended in the regional championship game three straight years now. Last year, the Rams also ended their season with a loss to Paonia, a long-time powerhouse under coach Scott Rienks. The Eagles’ size, depth and experience payed big dividends in Saturday’s game, which proved vastly more challenging than Paonia’s 54-16 win over Lyons on Friday in the regional semifinal.
“We just outsized them. With the exception of Briana, we pretty much had the size,” Rienks said. “The difference is, I’ve got a veteran team that’s been there and done that, where these guys are still pretty young.”
Trailing only 30-26 at halftime, it wasn’t until the third quarter that Soroco’s upset hopes unraveled. Paonia outscored the Rams 10-2 in the third quarter, part of a nearly 10-minute stretch over the final two quarters during which Soroco did not make a field goal.
The Eagles led by as much as 18 points in the fourth quarter before a too little, too late 12-3 run got Soroco back within single digits with barely a minute to play.
“Our kids never gave up. They fought the whole way,” Bruner said. “We just didn’t hit some shots when we needed to in the third quarter to keep it close. But it was a heck of a year. That team will go represent well (at state).”
Soroco trailed 14-8 after a quarter but outscored Paonia by two in the second quarter to trail by only four at halftime. The Rams finished the first half with a pair of threes — one each by Constine and freshman Chloe Veilleux — and took a lot of confidence into the locker room.
But a major, second-half dry spell led to Soroco’s downfall.
“We just couldn’t make any shots that we needed to hit. We were just flat,” Peterson said. “I think we were a little tired, and we did let it show, but after a while, we kind of stepped it up. But it wasn’t enough.”
Peterson led Soroco with 16 points. Junior DaKota Bruner was next best with nine. Paonia had three players reach double figures, led by 14 from junior guard Sophia Anderson.
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