DENVER - The girls' basketball program at Colorado Springs Christian is one win away from completing a turnaround stuck on overdrive.
After suffering four consecutive losing seasons before going 17-7 a year ago - in only the second year with coach Mark Engesser at the helm - the No. 4 Lions moved into the 3A state title game with a 39-26 win over top-seed Sterling on Friday at the University of Denver.
Now, a victory over No. 3 Lamar on Saturday is all that's needed to complete one of the quickest program revivals in the state.
Simply put, "it's crazy," Megan Engesser said.
The sophomore duo of Engesser and Rachel Ingram led the way offensively - as Engesser finished with a game-high 21 points and Ingram added 11.
But the Lions' harassing defense was the real key once again.
Just a day after allowing just one point after the third quarter in a 38-32 overtime win against Manitou Springs in the quarterfinals, the Lions (24-2) dipped the league's second-best scoring offense into a thick slurry in the semifinals.
The Lions held the previously undefeated Tigers (25-1) to seven points in the first half and six points less than their previous game-low.
They did it with speed, length and discipline.
"We weren't making shots and they had a good defense," said Sterling senior guard Kylie Chavez, whose team came in averaging 57 points per game.
"Every time we tried to go into the paint it collapsed. But we still had some open looks. They just didn't go in."
The Tigers did have one late push in them.
It, however, was far from enough.
They cut an 11-point deficit down to five with consecutive 3s from Chavez and Taylor Knudson at the 2:24 mark of the fourth. But the desperate foul frenzy that followed didn't work as the Lions hit 12 of 14 from the free-throw line in the final 2:16 to seal the victory.
The Lions will now have to beat the Savages for the second time in just over two weeks for a state title. The teams are 1-1 against each other this season.
"It's been about our hard work," said Ingram, who pointed to a team sleepover in the CSCS gym during the summer as just one example of this team's commitment.
"We've worked harder than any team."
CSCS went on a 14-3 run in the second quarter to go up 16-7 at the half.
In the third, the Tigers cut the lead to two, 18-16, before the Lions ended the game on a 20-10 run.
Saturday's 3A girls' final will start at 4 p.m. back at DU.
"It's really been a time of growth this season," junior Katie McGrath said. "It's been amazing. I think it's rewarding how much our hard work has paid off."