David Ramsey: Courtney Shepherd obeys coach, pushes Lewis-Palmer girls to massive upset

Photo - Courtney Shepherd and coach Cayla De George celebrate Lewis-Palmer's upset win over Air Academy. (David Ramsey, The Gazette)
Courtney Shepherd and coach Cayla De George celebrate Lewis-Palmer's upset win over Air Academy. (David Ramsey, The Gazette)

MONUMENT - The ball arrived in Lewis-Palmer guard Courtney Shepherd's hands. She was open. She was standing behind the 3-point line.

She looked at the basket, considering for an instant what to do next in a tight battle with Air Academy.

Then she heard a clear, loud voice just behind her. It was the voice of her basketball coach, Cayla De George.

"Shoot it!" De George said. "Knock it down!"

Shepherd had missed all five of her shots. Didn't matter. She knew she had to obey her coach.

"I knew it was going in, the second it came off my hand," Shepherd said, remembering the 3-point shot with 2:25 left that propelled L-P to a highly unlikely 42-39 win Wednesday over Air Academy. Preslee Enget led L-P with 16 points. Katelin Gallegos led Air Academy with 10.

L-P's Rangers (10-12) had lost eight of their previous 10 games while Air Academy's Kadets (19-4) had won 18 of their past 20. L-P is still dangling, even after the victory, on the bubble of earning a place in the 4A state tournament. Air Academy has ambitions to win the state tournament.

But that's just the start of the unlikely angle.

After the first quarter, Air Academy led 16-0. The Kadets' press was terrorizing the Rangers, who struggled to take, much less make, shots. It was Senior Night at the L-P gym, and it was exceedingly gloomy and quiet.

There didn't seem much question that the Rangers would lose. The question was by how much.

De George never raised her voice. She calmly paced the sidelines. She didn't radically alter her substitution pattern.

Against all odds, she believed her Rangers could come back.

"You know what? I know I have a resilient team," she said. "And my team is known for playing hard the whole time. The girls always battle. I never have to worry about that, so I didn't."

Air Academy's offense fell asleep and never truly awoke. The Kadets scored a total of 10 points in the second and third quarters as Lewis-Palmer slowly climbed back into contention.

At the end of the third quarter, L-P had finally grabbed the lead, 27-26.

"We struggled," Air Academy coach Phil Roiko said. "But give Lewis-Palmer credit. They kept battling."

With just under three minutes left, Air Academy led 36-34. It seemed the Kadets had finally recovered and would escape with a victory.

Then the ball arrived in Shepherd's hands.

"I have confidence in my player's ability to make shots," De George said. "And in the tightest moments, I have the most confidence in them."