LOVELAND - Whether they know it or not, all basketball coaches have a little Gene Hackman inside them.
And after his players got their first look at the spacious Budweiser Events Center with its 7,200 seats, Shane Seibel jumped at the chance to let his out, for both the CHSAA Class 2A State Championships' eighth-seeded Bobcats as well as himself.
"It's the first time I've ever been in here, and it's like, 'Yes! Beautiful!' And they got to watch Hoosiers," he said, referring to the iconic movie featuring Hackman portraying a fictitious team's head coach. "So I got to talk about bringing the tape measure: 'It's still 10 foot...We've still got the same three-point line, the free-throw line is the same distance."
"They were a little intimidated - just like us coaches - in a way, just to appreciate the arena," Seibel continued. "But they tried, they really did. I was excited for them."
"We talked to each other, said like, 'This is our house. No matter what people say, we're coming to dominate here,'" said freshman center Morgan Herrera. "And we were trying our hardest."
The Bobcats started play against top-seeded Yuma, last season's state champion and participant in the last four state final games, on Thursday, March 9, then took on fifth-ranked Simla the next day. The girls brought underdog energy and threatened to make school history at the expense of both, as the IHS girls have never won a game in a season's final phase.
Having trailed by two points on two occasions during the tournament's very first quarter, Yuma was even with IHS after eight minutes, 7-7, and led by a shaky 13-8 margin at halftime.
Simla led by only two points (12-10) after one quarter, three (26-23) after two and five (34-29) after three.
"It was exciting," Herrera said. "Our team was hungry, we were all clicking."
Unfortunately, a victory in either the initial "Great Eight" or subsequent consolation-bracket semifinals wasn't in the cards. Yuma came out strong during the third quarter, helping lead the team to a 43-18 win.
The next day, Simla benefitted from foul after foul called on the Bobcats. That resulted in senior guard/forward Alejandra Lujan (2:13 left in the third quarter), junior guard Avionne Gomez (4:36 left in the fourth) and Herrera (2:27 left in the fourth) all fouling out. Simla pulled away via 7-of-14 work at the charity stripe during the final quarter and prevailed 47-34.
Able to drain three triples and four threethrows in six tries, Gomez bounced back from a scoreless showing against Yuma to lead all players with her 13 points in the Simla game.
Freshman forward Makayla Howell, also blanked by Yuma's physical posts, got nine points in the second quarter against Simla and totaled 11.
Herrera logged seven points on Day 1 and four on Day 2, but was just 5-of-12 accurate at the foul line.
Lujan registered a team-best eight points against Yuyma before fouling out with 2:31 remaining, and then fought for three against Simla.
Sophomore reserve guard Heile Pearson, however, punctuated Ignacio's special season with a confident three-pointer and the squad began focusing on a return in 2018.
The Bobcats will lose five seniors: Lujan, injured guard Tori Archuleta, and varsity/JV swing players Rachel Cooper, Sharmaine Price and Jade Richards.
Seibel was proud of his team's performance.
"Scrapped, scratched and clawed - we just didn't get our offense going," Seibel said. "It's not life-or-death, it's a basketball game. You lose to a better team? You shake their hand and shake it off. Cry if you've got to cry, but you let it out and then you move on."
And he thinks they'll be ready for next year after making it to the big stage in 2017.
"Get your mind clear, your body right and your spirit right to get your focus," he continued. "We're going to learn from this. We'll pick ourselves up and get after it with the idea that we're going to make history by being the first team to win a game up here! That's our goal! Let's not let it slip away. I'm so proud of the girls."
Or as Hackman said in the famous flick, "I love you guys.'
AFTERMATH: Yuma's bid for a fifth consecutive state championship appearance was denied on Day 2. Facing 4-seed Wray for a fifth time this winter, the Indians fell 46-44 but regrouped to save third place the next afternoon with a 46-40 win over #3 Del Norte.
Wray, meanwhile, took second after falling 59-42 to undefeated 2-seed Paonia (25-0) in the title game.
Simla finished 20-6 after losing 59-43 to #6 Haxtun (21-5) in the consolation championship, leaving Ignacio (16-8) and 7-seed Swink (20-4) as the two crews not officially placing in the Great Eight.