Kylee Blacksten's big night helps Air Academy girls cruise into third round

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Photo - Palmer Ridge Sophomore Eden Bonser, right, looks to get past Air Academy guard Lexi Riehl during the second round of the CHSAA 4A Girls state basketball championships between Palmer Ridge and Air Academy on Friday February 23, 2018 in Colorado Springs. Air Academy advanced with a 60-30 win to the sweet 16. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

Palmer Ridge Sophomore Eden Bonser, right, looks to get past Air Academy guard Lexi Riehl during the second round of the CHSAA 4A Girls state basketball championships between Palmer Ridge and Air Academy on Friday February 23, 2018 in Colorado Springs. Air Academy advanced with a 60-30 win to the sweet 16. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

The adrenaline running through the third-seeded Air Academy High School girls’ basketball team was evident early in Friday’s postseason opener against Palmer Ridge. The reason for the excitement became more obvious as the Kadets coasted to a 60-30 win on their home court.

Kadet coach Phil Roiko chalked up a couple of early air balls that helped the Bears lead midway through the first quarter to extra energy.

“I think it was just excitement,” Roiko said. “Everybody’s pumped up.”

Junior Liza Louthan helped the Kadets settle by swishing a 3-pointer to give the Kadets the lead for good after five minutes. The deep make from the top of the key also signaled Air Academy’s awakening.

“We just had a good night tonight,” Roiko said. “Everything … that was probably one of the most complete games we’ve played.”

Kylee Blacksten, an Air Academy sophomore, built off Louthan’s make with a 3-pointer and a traditional three-point play, helping the Kadets close the quarter on a 8-0 run. On a balanced team that doesn’t feature any player averaging more than 10 points, it was Blacksten’s night.

“We always have certain players that do certain things for our team,” the versatile 6-foot-3 sophomore said. “Every now and then, those roles will change, and it’s just really interesting and fun to see how everyone else grows throughout the season.”

Blacksten added two more 3-pointers from just in front of the Bears’ bench and a layup to help Air Academy lead 32-9 at half.

“I know they made six 3s at half,” Palmer Ridge coach Dennis Coates said. “It seemed like they made 40.”

Junior Katlyn Blacksten opened the second half with another Air Academy 3-pointer before Kylee Blacksten closed the quarter with her fourth triple, giving the Kadets a 46-18 lead.

“She was terrific. It was good to see her break out of her shell,” Roiko said.

“She’s been working hard on the 3.”

Heaven Hall hit the Kadets’ final 3-pointer, as the Air Academy bench handled most of the fourth quarter.

In total, the Kadets hit nine 3-pointers with six players connecting from deep.

“They shoot like that,” Coates said, “I don’t know how anybody beats them.”

Kylee Blacksten finished with a game-high 17 points. Senior Mary Parchinski - the Kadets’ leading scorer - added nine, while Zoe Sims, Louthan and Hall added seven apiece.

Sophomore Eden Bonser scored Palmer Ridge’s first six points and led the Bears with 13, while Dulaney Koogle scored all seven of her points in the fourth quarter. The Bears had lost to the Kadets twice previously by a total of 22 points.

“Hats off to Palmer Ridge for a good season,” Roiko said. “They battled us twice. I did not want to have to play them a third time.”

The Kadets will take a 20-game winning streak and a good deal of excitement into Tuesday’s third-round matchup against 14th-seeded, Rifle (22-2), which beat Discovery Canyon on Friday.

“We’re super excited,” Kylee Blacksten said. “We just have to be ready for that next game.”