The talent on display at the Class 1A girls basketball tournament in Baker was as deep as it had been in years.
"The depth of talented teams this year is one of the best I've ever seen," said Russell Halverson, whose Country Christian squad returned to Baker for the eighth time in the last 10 years. "Usually after about five or six, you get some other teams that aren't as good, so there's real favorable draws at the beginning. There's no favorable draws here for anybody."
The Cougars first game was proof of that.
Playing No. 1 ranked Crane Wednesday, No. 9 Country Christian got within five points of the Mustangs on a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Lanie Barden with 6:28 remaining in the third quarter.
But Crane answered with a 15-2 run en route to a 64-44 victory.
"We kind of knew in that round one that we were going against the top team in the state," Halverson. "I thought we played a whale of a ball game. They just have some pieces that are just so hard to handle."
Through double and triple teams, the Cougars held Riley Davis to eight points, but the Crane junior had 17 rebounds and six blocks.
"Other kids knocked down shots from outside so they could go on runs," Halverson said.
Sophomore Kelsie Siegner had 25 points and eight rebounds.
"She's just such a pure shooter," Halverson said of Siegner. "They're a load."
Freshman Annie Bafford led Country Christian with 14 points and four rebounds.
"Annie had a phenomenal game and helped us stay in it," Halverson said. "She was knocking down shots and bringing the big (Davis) out."
The Cougars drew a familiar opponent in their second game — Damascus Christian.
Country Christian split its two Valley 10 League games against the Eagles. Damascus then defeated the Cougars in the league championship game.
The Eagles also won the final matchup, 43-42, Thursday morning, ending Country Christian's season.
After falling behind early, the Cougars outscored Damascus 18-8 in the second quarter and led 40-36 with 3:33 to go.
But Country Christian had four turnovers down the stretch and the Eagles took advantage. A layup by Emily Powers gave Damascus a 41-40 lead with 2:14 remaining. After Ally Love's jump shot extended the lead to 43-40, Bafford scored with 37 seconds to go to get the Cougars within 43-42.
The Eagles then missed four free throws. But Lizzy Grandle's shot at the buzzer did not fall for Country Christian.
"It was halfway down and came out," Halverson said.
Grandle finished with nine points and 12 rebounds to lead the Cougars. Barden scored 11 points.
"We're very evenly matched teams, a very good battle," Halverson said. "They have a couple of more seniors in their core rotation. They were here at Baker last year, so they have just a little more experience. We struggled to finish those games. It was the first time that I felt we really out-played them and it really just came down to youthful mistakes in the end.
"Nobody wants to come over here and go two and out. The girls wanted to win bad and I know they know they're capable of beating Damascus, but they did everything they could to give themselves a chance. I wasn't disappointed with how they played. I thought they represented themselves really well over here."
Country Christian, which has just one senior (Jera Warrington) should return nearly everybody next season.
"Seeing the teams and how everybody compares, we are right there," Halverson said. "We're going to be even better next year. This is a quality group of 1A teams this year. I was really impressed with the talent level and we're right there with it."
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