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McClave rallies past Dove Creek in state basketball semifinals

Cardinals overcome 27-16 halftime deficit to beat Bulldogs at the wire
Rylee Hickman of Dove Creek High School scores a bucket Friday while playing McClave in the Class 1A state semifinals in Greeley. (Cody Olivas/Durango Herald)

Dove Creek couldn’t ask for much more from its gritty girls basketball program.

Pushing the No. 1 team in the bracket to the brink, the Bulldogs couldn’t find one more answer to pull off the upset, falling Friday in a state semifinal against McClave 43-39 to see their postseason run end.

The Bulldogs led by as many as 13 in the contest, controlling the first-half tempo and flustering the talented Cardinals into bundle of turnovers, but McClave (25-0) rallied to take a late lead, and the Bulldogs’ last-gasp opportunities fell short.

Much like the night before, Dove Creek (22-3) fell behind early, as McClave’s standout freshman, Abrielle Gomez, came out blazing, draining a pair of 3-pointers and accounting for the first 10 points of the game for the top seed.

After leaning on seniors Lexi Gray and Rylee Hickman to carry the Bulldogs in the second half of a quarterfinal win over Stratton, the narrative continued in the early moments of their semifinal contest.

Kylie Gatlin of Dove Creek High School takes a shot while playing McClave in the Class 1A state semifinals Friday in Greeley. (Cody Olivas/Durango Herald)

Dove Creek responded methodically, bullying the Cardinals on the glass, as Gray took it to the McClave post defense with a couple of inside buckets to climb back in the game, before Hickman’s 3-pointer tied the game at 10. From there, Dove Creek put on a master class on both ends of the floor, punishing the Cardinals inside and either scoring with ease or earning trips to the free throw line, where they would take a 14-10 lead after one quarter.

Junior Kylee Gatlin knocked home a 3-pointer, followed by a Hickman lay-in, and suddenly, an 18-2 run ballooned the lead to 25-12. Senior Trista Barnett added a bucket before the break, and the Bulldogs stormed to the locker room leading 27-16.

Taking down a top seed is never easy, however, and in the third quarter McClave escalated the pace. Junior McKayla Kiniston generated several steals that led to buckets or Dove Creek fouls.

The Cards chipped away at the free throw line while Dove Creek went cold from the field, scoring just three points in the third quarter. The Bulldogs’ double-digit lead evaporated, and Dove Creek clung to a 3-point advantage heading to the final eight minutes.

Sophomore Ralynn Hickman banked home a bucket to open the fourth quarter and restore a five-point edge, but five straight Kiniston points tied the game at 32, the first tie since the first quarter.

Dove Creek and McClave traded buckets and Kiniston’s runner gave McClave its first lead since the game’s opening moments. Bulldogs junior Kalie Gatlin stepped to the line at the other end and drained both ends of a one-and-one to restore parity at 38 with a minute left to go.

With possession, the Cardinals opted to hold the ball and attempt to win the game late, and Gomez, who had been a spark plug for much of the night scooped up a shot from left of the lane that hung on the rim before falling through with just seconds to spare.

Rylee Hickman made one of two free throws after being fouled in the final few seconds, and McClave made their late free throws to preserve the win.

Hickman led the way for Dove Creek, scoring 14 points, while Gray added nine. Kylie Gatlin tallied seven, and Barnett five.

Gomez led all scorers with 21 points, while Kiniston added 14 for the unbeaten Cardinals, who advanced to the state championship, looking to end a 13-year title drought.

No. 3 Briggsdale awaits McClave in the state title game, as the Falcons upended two-time defending champion Flatirons Academy in the other semifinal. The Bulldogs defeated No. 2 Flatirons 40-28 for third place Saturday morning at UNC.

Zoe Martinez of McClave High School gets trapped by Dove Creek's Trista Barnett and Rylee Hickman on Friday in the Class 1A state semifinals in Greeley. (Cody Olivas/Durango Herald)
Kylie Gatlin of Dove Creek dives to save a ball from going out of bounds while playing McClave in the Class 1A state semifinals Friday in Greeley. (Cody Olivas/Durango Herald)
Lexi Gray of Dove Creek High School battles with Chloe Weber of McClave for a loose ball during the Class 1A state semifinals Friday at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. (Cody Olivas/Durango Herald)
Trista Barnett of Dove Creek High School is forced to foul McKenna Kiniston of McClave with 5 seconds left in the game and the Bulldogs trailing by 1 point. Kiniston made both of the ensuing free throws to help McClave finish on top. (Cody Olivas/Durango Herald)
Kalie Gatlin of Dove Creek High Schools walks off the court while McClave players and fans begin to celebrate after the Cardinals rallied to win the Class 1A state semifinal contest Friday in Greeley. (Cody Olivas/Durango Herald)