ThunderWolves can’t keep pace with FLC

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald

Pagosa Springs product Mary Brinton came off the Fort Lewis College bench to lead the Skyhawks’ reserves with 13 points. FLC was led by a well-rounded effort in a key 78-64 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference victory over CSU-Pueblo on Friday night at Whalen Gymnasium.

By Ryan Owens Herald staff writer

If the Fort Lewis College women’s basketball team’s goal Friday was to make a statement as it started the stretch run, mission accomplished.

The Skyhawks used crisp ball movement and terrific pressure defense to keep CSU-Pueblo on its heels, leading the ThunderWolves by as many as 21 points before winning 78-64 on Friday at Whalen Gymnasium.

It was one of the Skyhawks’ most complete performances of the year. Five players scored in double-figures, and Katerina Garcia and Alex Easterbrook both narrowly missed triple-doubles. Garcia had 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while Easterbrook contributed seven points, eight assists and nine boards.

“Obviously that helps our transition if those guys are coming down and getting rebounds right off the bat, then we can start our transition quicker than normal,” FLC head coach Jason Flores said.

Mary Brinton was the offensive catalyst off the bench, scoring 13 points, while Ashley Kuchar scored 12. Christie Groh scored 13, and Erika Richards also had 11 points and seven rebounds as the Skyhawks topped CSU-Pueblo by 14 points after falling by 15 in Pueblo, good for a 29-point turnaround.

Brinton had 17 points and nine rebounds last weekend in a win over Western New Mexico.

“I’m just working hard in practice; it’s paid off now,” said Brinton, a Pagosa Springs High School alumna. “I figured that out. Coach said that we had to prove ourselves in practice, and I finally figured it out, so it’s nice.”

Perhaps the biggest key was pace. Garcia, Easterbrook and Erin Curry pushed the tempo offensively, while the defense seemed to force the ThunderWolves to move faster than they’re accustomed.

“I thought we did a really good job of just finding their other shooters and making sure their shots were rushed, making sure that we run out at them and making things a little hectic for them,” Richards said. “And I thought Kat did a really good job of pushing tempo, and Erin as well.”

Laurel Kearsley finished with a stellar 30 points, but Caiti Forrester was the only other CSU-Pueblo player in double figures with 10.

The victory provided FLC with a signature win as the Skyhawks look to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for a sixth consecutive year. It also brings FLC even with the ThunderWolves at 12-5 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

“First of all, it was a great turnaround. ... That shows you we’ve come a long way as a team from the beginning of the season, and I couldn’t be more proud of the players for that,” Flores said. “As far as the postseason goes, we talked about that. That will take care of itself if we continue to play well and win games.”

After an even start, FLC (13-8) used a 24-6 run to go ahead 28-12 before leading 38-27 at halftime. The big key for the Skyhawks was cutting CSU-Pueblo’s momentum to open the second half. The ThunderWolves (15-6) trimmed the lead to seven at 38-31, but a pair of 3s by Kuchar and Garcia pushed the lead back out to 44-31 in short order, and FLC would lead by double-digits the rest of the way, eventually going up as much as 73-52 with 6 minutes, 24 seconds to play.

FLC has another opportunity for a key RMAC win when UC-Colorado Springs hits town at 5:30 p.m. today, the second game of its four-game homestand.

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