Girls Outlaws make run to third place

If you ain’t first, you’re last.

Well heck, you could still be second, third, fourth or even fifth.

With sincerest apologies to Reese Bobby from “Ricky Bobby, Talladega Nights” the Yuma High School girls basketball team will take a third-place finish in the Class 3A State Basketball Tournament, last weekend in Hamilton Gym on the University of Denver campus.

“There’s only two teams that get to finish with a win in this format, and we were one of them,” coach Jeremy Robinson said. “To bounce back on Saturday like we did, it was good.

“It was fun. I was proud of these girls, and happy for those seniors. This all started four years ago, when Ema Richardson and Taylor Law were seniors. They finally got to be a part of (the Great 8), and they were super close to playing Saturday afternoon for the championship.”

Yuma finished the 2023-24 season with a 17-9 record, and got to bring home a surprisingly-large trophy after finishing third in the 3A tournament. It was the most wins for the Yuma girls program since winning the second of back-to-back 2A titles in 2019.

“Streaky” would be an apt description of this season’s Outlaws. They started the season 9-1, lost seven straight, then won seven straight, and eight of their least nine, to claim a trophy for the case in the YHS Commons, and get a banner up on the wall in The Pit by next season.

“These girls got to experience happy tears,” Robinson said. “They got to experience the season being over when it’s supposed to be over, which is Saturday (of the state tournament).”

The Outlaws, along with the boys team, hustled out of town Thursday morning as a late-winter snowstorm began dumping several inches on the immediate area. They drove out of of it after getting to Akron, then cruised to Denver for a fun weekend on the DU campus and the big city.

Yuma opened Great 8 play Thursday night against Centauri. The Falcons entered as the No. 4 seed, while the Outlaws were the fifth.

However, Yuma led from start to finish in what likely was its most dominant overall performance of its roller-coaster season.

“That was my biggest fear game because of their size and physicality,” Robinson said of the Falcons. “They weren’t as big as they seemed to be (on film), but they were still big enough and physical. We came out and proved we belonged there.”

The Outlaws never were seriously challenged in the 44-29 win.

They quickly took an 11-3 lead, but the Falcons cut it to 12-8 by the end of the first quarter.

Yuma opened the second on a 9-1 stretch for a 21-9 lead, and still led 24-14 at halftime.

The Outlaws kept Centauri at arm’s length the rest of the way. They led 34-22 before Centauri closed the third on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Jade Lungwitz scored four straight as the Outlaws opened up a 41-26 lead in the fourth, then cruised from there to the win.

“Centauri has been there a lot (in the 3A tourney) but they were done on Thursday,” Robinson said. “This was the first time there for this group of girls and they win that one and play through Saturday. I was just happy for them.”

Lungwitz had 18 points, five rebounds, five steals and four assists, Emma Rayl seven points, three assists and three steals, Jailyn Mekelburg four points and four rebounds, Caddis Robinson four points and four rebounds, Aubrey Blach three points and two steals, Ashley Ibanez two oints and five rebounds, Berkley Nighswonger two points, Bailey Nighswonger two points and three rebounds, Alina Moran one point and three rebounds, and Taryn Sheffield one point and two rebounds.

No. 1 and undefeated Peyton had cruised past Strasburg in its quarterfinal, setting up Friday’s late semifinal with the Outlaws in Hamilton.

Yuma had played at Peyton in January, leading by one at halftime before eventually losing.

The Outlaws again gave the top-ranked Panthers all it could handle, leading 28-27 with under one minute left before losing 36-28.

Yuma could have cruised to the win, but missed multiple open shots right at the basket, and made just three of 13 at the charity strip while Peyton made 15 of 18.

Still, the Outlaws battled the whole way. They trailed 13-6 but closed the second quarter on a 7-0 spurt to send the teams into the locker room tied at 16.

The game remained a defensive struggle as Peyton took a 21-16 lead, but freshman Berkley Nighswonger scored four straight to pull Yuma to within 21-20 entering the fourth.

Yuma took leads of 22-21 and 26-25 before finally taking a 28-27 lead on Ross’ finger-roll layup with about 1 minute left. The Outlaws defense got a stop, giving Yuma the ball with 58 seconds left.

However, 3A leading scorer, and a great defender, AJ Mannering poked the ball away, was fouled while attempting a layup, made both at the charity stripe for a Peyton lead. Yuma had chances, but missed its opportunities, and Peyton kept making free throws to secure the win.

Mannering was held to 17 points, with seven of them coming at the charity stripe in the final 51 seconds.

“You just have to have those shots,” Robinson said of the “bunnies” missed by the Outlaws, as well as the free-throw line. “In my opinion, (Peyton) got lucky to win that game, but that’s all part of it. We played our rears off defensively. The players bought into the game plan, executed it perfectly, we just missed all those shots for some reason.”

Robinson had 11 points and seven rebounds, Berkley Nighswonger six points and seven rebounds, Carolina Ross four points, Lungwitz four points, Bailey Nighswonger two points, Moran five rebounds, and Rayl, Black and Sheffield two rebounds each.

After the disappointing loss, the Outlaws stuck around Hamilton to support the boys in their thrilling overtime win over Forge Christian, then went to get a meal, went to the hotel, and then were back on the court Saturday for the 12 noon third-place game with St. Mary’s, which had lost 53-8 to eventual state champion Colorado Springs Christian School in the earlier semifinal.

The Outlaws were all over it early one, knocking down four 3-pointers while taking a 17-11 lead.

The game grinded nearly to a halt after that, as two tired teams valiantly battled for the third-place trophy.

Yuma led 21-13 a halftime, and 26-18 midway through the third. However, St. Mary’s wanted to finish with a win also, closing the third on a 6-0 to cut Yuma’s lead to 26-24.

It stayed close throughout the final quarter. Yuma fell behind, but Robinson’s bucket put the Outlaws ahead 29-28. They fell behind by one, but Ross scored three straight fo ra 32-30 lead. Yuma came up with a block at the basket to maintain the lead, and soon regained possession.

The ending was interesting as Robinson went to the line with 0.8 second left. She missed the first, but then missed the second on purpose as time should run out after the ball hit the rim, and St. Mary’s would not be able to call a timeout until one of its players retained possession.

However, no time ran off the clock as the referees said the St. Mary’s coach had called a timeout. Then hardly and time ran off after Robinson blocked the inbounds pass.

Still, it worked out in the end, with some fun drama in a third-place game as the Outlaws got the trophy with a 32-30 win.

“We just got so tired,” coach Robinson said. “That Friday night game was such a battle, we were just worn out. We did what we had to in that first quarter, thank goodness, because we got tired after that.”

Robinson had nine points and two assists, Rayl seven points, four rebounds and five assists, Ross six points, three rebounds and two steals, Moran four points and seven rebounds, Lungwitz four points and three rebounds, Berkely Nighswonger two points and five rebounds, Bailey Nighswonger four rebounds, Black wo rebounds, Sheffiled three reobunds and three steals, and Mekelburg two rebounds.

The win ended the high school careers of seniors Ashley Ibanez (who missed the last six quarters of the season with an injury), Caddis Robinson, Emma Rayl and Jailyn Mekelburg.