The Ignacio High School had lofty goals this season, and they achieved nearly every one. But the No. 8 Bobcats' season came to a close sooner than they hoped with a 45-35 loss to No. 4 Holyoke in the consolation semifinals of the Class 2A state tournament Thursday at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
"From where the girls were at to start the season to where they are now, they made a huge leap in recognizing their potential," Bobcats head coach Trae Seibel said. "I want all the credit to go to the girls because they stayed together as a team and they blossomed.
"I don't want any credit for anything. It all goes to the girls and their families. And I'm proud of my assistant coaches for giving up their time to come help out. I'm proud of the girls and I'm proud of my assistant coaches."
Ignacio got off to a slow start and struggled to take care of the ball with early turnovers. But after the nerves wore off, the Bobcats tied the game at 7-7 at the end of the first quarter when Allisianna Baker-Marquez came up with a steal and found Charlize Valdez, who beat the first-quarter buzzer.
"What I saw out of Charlize was what I saw out of everybody, and that was fighting to win," Seibel said. "They played their game and were doing their best to fight through."
The Bobcats (21-4) carried the momentum into the second quarter and built a quick 11-7 lead after back-to-back baskets from Makayla Howell and Larissa Gallegos.
But the advantage didn't last long, as Holyoke (19-7) score the next five points to take a 12-11 lead, and took a 21-18 advantage into halftime.
The slow start of the first quarter returned at the start of the third for Ignacio, and the Dragons took advantage and built their lead to 31-22 with a few minutes remaining in the quarter.
"The second half we did our best to try to come out and dictate what we wanted to do, but we missed some possessions here and there in the third quarter," Seibel said.
The Dragons maintained the nine-point lead the rest of the quarter and held a 33-24 advantage to start the fourth.
Frustrations mounted for the Bobcats in the third quarter. Morgan Herrera was whistled for an offensive foul, despite the defender being out of position. The charging call led to Seibel getting hit with a technical foul for arguing the call.
"It was tough trying to find our flow," Seibel said, referencing the number of foul calls. "We just wanted to stay true to our game plan, and that was to get it inside, then work it outside. Our focus was to keep playing and not give up, regardless of what the environment was like."
Holyoke pushed its lead to double digits in the fourth quarter and spread the floor to burn clock to cruise to the victory.
Valdez led the Bobcats with nine points and snagged three steals, and Avionne Gomez and Makayla Howell added seven points apiece.
While it wasn't the ending they hoped for, the Bobcats' future is bright and they'll be a favorite to return to the state tournament next season. Ignacio will only lose three seniors from this season's roster and lists several freshman and sophomores who will only get better moving forward.
"I want the girls to take this experience and handle it however they want to handle it," Seibel said. "If they want to use it to light a fire under them, that's their choice.
"For me, I want them to be able to take this experience and build on it. Whatever they do in life, I hope they can look back at this and build on it and be able to draw from this experience and make good choices. I want them to learn from this experience, I'm going to do my best to learn from this as well, and we'll see what we can do next year."