There was no discernable feeling when the buzzer sounded Thursday night in Andover, signalling the Trojans had advanced to their girls sub-state final with a 45-36 victory over Heights.
But it marked the close of a remarkable girls basketball run, as Heights was eliminated in the first round of sub-state play for the first time since 1999.
“I’ve been here nine years and I’ve played on Saturday for the last nine years,” Heights coach Kip Pulliam said. “This is a first for me.”
The Falcons are used to contending for state championships — they have won six of since 2002. The last time Heights didn’t reach the state tournament was 2004 — the year before Pulliam took over the program.
Andover (16-5) advances to play at Kapaun Mount Carmel on Saturday at 7 p.m. in a Class 5A sub-state final.
Whether this 11-10 season is a blip on Heights’ radar remains to be seen, but Pulliam believes better days are ahead with only one senior this season.
“We knew this year would be all about maturing,” Pulliam said. “You hoped it would happen this year, but now everybody knows the system. It’s not new to them. Next year will be completely different.”
Andover still has plenty to play for this season because it was able to not only handle Heights’ pressure. but make the Falcons pay for their aggressive nature.
Point guard Riley Messina was crucial in making passes quick enough before Heights’ pressure arrived, more times than not finding an open Maddie Routhier at the three-point line.
Routhier scored a game-high 15 points, knocking down five three-pointers.
“We have some really quick guards and we tried to spread them out,” Andover coach Max Hamblin said. “They did everything we worked on for the last three days in practice. It was a great job by everyone.”
Andover opened the game hitting its first four shots and never trailed, although Heights rallied to narrow the margin to 41-36 with 2:50 remaining in the game.
That’s when the Trojans were put to the test, as Heights sent wave after wave of pressure but could not force them to succumb to it. Andover kept the ball moving and away from double-teams, as it whittled more than two minutes off the clock and ended the possession with two Jaylyn Agnew free throws.
Agnew finished with 14 points, five rebounds, and four blocks. Heights was led by Jaraya Owens, Daliyah Watson, and Analyss Benally, who combined for 29 points.
“That was a huge swing for us,” Messina said. “It showed how we can work through the pressure. They were probably the most aggressive team we’ve played. They definitely played us the tightest.”
While Pulliam swears that a reversal is coming next season, Heights, for one season at least, played the role of the pesky opponent — the type that the Falcons have been used to overcoming for the last decade.
“You have to give them credit,” Hamblin said, shaking his head, “that is one tough six seed.”
HEIGHTS: Owens 10, Watson 10, Benally 9, Parks 3, Straughter 3, Lowe 1.
ANDOVER: Routhier 15, Agnew 14, Tilson 8, Day 4, Messina 2, Meisch 2.