Mesa Ridge junior Chloe Welch reaches big milestone in big playoff victory

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Photo - Mesa Ridge's Chloe Welch dives for the ball with Pueblo East's Kayla Albo going for the ball from behind. Mesa Ridge defeated Pueblo East 46-40 to advance to the Elite Eight in the state tournament on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette
Mesa Ridge's Chloe Welch dives for the ball with Pueblo East's Kayla Albo going for the ball from behind. Mesa Ridge defeated Pueblo East 46-40 to advance to the Elite Eight in the state tournament on Tuesday, February 28, 2017. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

On the night Mesa Ridge junior Chloe Welch scored her 1,000th career point, it was her defense that helped her girls' basketball team advance to the 4A state quarterfinals.

Welch scored 11 points, including the milestone-setting free throw with 46.8 seconds left, as the No. 7-seed Grizzlies rallied past No. 10 Pueblo East 46-40 on Tuesday night.

But it was holding Eagles senior standout Kayla Albo to nine points, six below her average, and a defensive tour de force by sophomore post Ashley Bowen (seven blocks) on the inside that allowed the host Grizzlies to overcome a quick start and pull away from the Eagles.

"We gave her a real tough defensive assignment against their best girl and she delivered," Grizzlies coach Jeff Beatty said of Welch.

"Defense is my first priority anytime we break a huddle," said Welch, who had a five-inch height advantage over Albo. "Once I heard I needed to guard her, I was excited because I knew I could shut her down."

The Grizzlies travel to play No. 2 Pueblo West, which held off No. 15 D'Evelyn 66-64, in Friday's quarterfinals. It is Mesa Ridge's eighth quarterfinals appearance since 2009, including a state title.

While Welch slowed down Albo, Bowen's seven blocks led to some transition opportunities for the Grizzlies (21-4). While not every opportunity led to points, the blocks and the 6-foot-3 sophomore's height advantage kept Pueblo East from generating any consistent scoring.

The tallest Pueblo East player was 5-9 senior Chazz Padula (11 points), but she could do little to slow down Bowen, who recorded a game-high 18 points in the paint. Padula fouled out in the fourth.

"I don't think they realized they couldn't shoot over me with my wingspan," Bowen said. "We were a little nervous at the start of the game because we're a young team (four seniors). But once we got our offense going, we got hyped on the defensive end."

That defensive effort, led by Bowen and Welch, helped reverse an early 6-0 Pueblo East lead as the fleet-footed Eagles, starting four listed as guards, cut to the basket.

But Mesa Ridge kept pumping the ball inside to Bowen, who ended a 2-minute, 26-second scoreless start and helped cut into the Pueblo East (17-8) lead. Bowen then established her inside defensive presence with two blocks on consecutive possessions and Mesa Ridge settled down.

A 3-pointer at the first-quarter buzzer by Mesa Ridge senior Britanie Olsen cut the Eagles' lead to 12-9 and the hosts rode that momentum with a 12-4 scoring spurt in the second quarter. A layup for Bowen put Mesa Ridge ahead for good, 15-13, with 4:34 left in the second.

The Eagles battled back in the fourth quarter to trail by five late before Welch hit three free throws in the final 47 seconds.

"It's good to know we can win even if we didn't play our best game," Beatty said.