David Ramsey: Ashley Bowen boldly leads Mesa Ridge girls' basketball past top-seeded Pueblo West

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Photo - Holy Family guard Isabelle Hren gets blocked by Mesa Ridge center Ashley Bowen during the Mesa Ridge and Holy Family girls basketball game at Mesa Ridge High School on Friday, March 4, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.
Holy Family guard Isabelle Hren gets blocked by Mesa Ridge center Ashley Bowen during the Mesa Ridge and Holy Family girls basketball game at Mesa Ridge High School on Friday, March 4, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette.

PUEBLO WEST – Ashley Bowen was tired, but her Mesa Ridge teammates needed her to fight through her weariness.

So she battled through her fatigue and led her Grizzlies to a 66-63 win over top-seeded Pueblo West. Bowen scored 10 points in a wild fourth-quarter rally that turned a 10-point deficit into a trip to 4A final four. Mesa Ridge, a No. 8 seed, outscored Pueblo West’s Cyclones 23-10 in the fourth quarter.

Mesa Ridge will play Pueblo South at Denver Coliseum Thursday. The winner will go to the state 4A final.

"I’m a little tired,” Bowen said. “I’m a little achy, but I’m glad I was able to pull  through for my team. I was able to push myself through the tiredness.”

Bowen, a junior center, is a mighty inside force, but stamina is not her strength. Mesa Ridge coach Jeff Beatty did everything in his power to keep her fresh in the final minutes. He called timeouts to give her rest. He shouted encouragement.

“That’s probably the most minutes she’s played all year,” Beatty said. “We kept her in, past her getting tired and everything because she was one of our best chances to score. She kept coming back.”

Yes, she did. Bowen finished with 21 points and seven blocked shots. She scored an ultra-rapid six points in a crucial 70-second stretch that allowed the Grizzlies to finally catch Pueblo West at 61 with 2:15 left.

With 15 seconds left, Mesa Ridge star Chloe Welch sank a tough running shot in a crowd to give the Grizzlies a 65-63 lead. Welch, who finished with 20 points, kept Mesa in sight in the third quarter with 13 points.

“She’s clutch,” Beatty said of the game-winning shot. “That’s what D-1 kids do.” (Welch will play next season at Davidson.)

Pueblo West still almost salvaged the victory. With 6 seconds left, guard Hannah Simental launched a 3-pointer. Simental had scored 18 points.

Her shot rattled out.

“I knew it was going to be a little short,” Bowen said.

At the end of the third quarter, Pueblo West seemed in control. Olivia Lough, a smooth forward, had scored 21 points and seemed ready to lead the Cyclones to Denver and the final four.

The Cyclones seemed to forget about Lough in the fourth quarter. She seldom touched the ball, and she failed to score. And Pueblo West coach Gil Lucero mysteriously refused to double-team Bowen in the final minutes, even as she destroyed the Cyclones.

But give the Grizzlies credit. They werea superb when it mattered most.

Two seasons ago, Mesa Ridge lost the biggest player – and we’re talking literally – in the program’s history when 6-foot-4 Kylee Shook graduated and departed for Louisville.

Since Shook left, the Grizzlies have finished 44-8 and remain alive in the chase for a state title.

“Everything you see is a reward for them working hard in the offseason and bringing all those pieces together to play as a team,” Beatty said.

Beatty knows how hard his players have worked. He’s seen their unselfishness. Even when his team fell behind by 10 heading into the fourth quarter, he retained his belief.