DENVER – Elleah Hoekert’s role on the Colorado Springs Christian School girls’ basketball team isn’t a glorious one — yet.
The 5-foot-9 freshman patrolled the middle of a couple of different zone defenses for the second-seeded Lions in a 60-48 win over No. 10 Centauri in Thursday’s Class 3A quarterfinal at the University of Denver. She also set solid ball screens to free the Lions’ high-scoring senior duo, Megan Engesser and Rachel Ingram, battled for rebounds and shot when it came her way.
“I just play my hardest,” Hoekert said. “I assist a lot, just hit the open shot, do whatever to pick up my teammates.”
There were times Thursday when the Lions needed a lift.
Centauri won the tip and jumped to a 6-0 lead behind a pair of 3-pointers from junior McKenna Bagwell.
Hoekert’s third bucket of the first quarter, a driving layup after her defender bit on a head fake, gave the Lions their first lead, 10-8.
Engesser and Ingram hit a pair of 3-pointers in the remaining minutes of the first quarter, giving CSCS a four-point lead after one.
Hoekert scored on a pick-and-roll on the first possession of the second quarter, finishing an Ingram assist.
“(She was) rolling well on the ball screen, got some layups in the first half,” CSCS coach Mark Engesser said of the freshman.
Ingram’s 15 first-half points led the Lions to a 33-21 lead at the break.
The Falcons hit three 3-pointers in a 14-6 third-quarter run to pull within four to start the fourth. At one point in the third, a Centauri defender sent Hoekert to the ground after detonating a screen. There was no foul despite protests from her coach and the CSCS fans behind the bench. She returned to the top of the key on the next possession, crossed her arms against her chest and braced for contact.
“You just gotta keep pushing,” Hoekert said.
“That’s the play. I have to set a screen.”
Centauri used some second-chance points and free throws to make it a one-possession game with 6:50 left. Hoekert and the team will be reminded that, without much of a post presence, the Lions need everyone to crash the glass.
“That’s our weakness. We know it,” coach Engesser said. “We’re not big. Every team is bigger than us, but we have to go get the ball.”
After a couple of more buckets from Ingram and Engesser, Hoekert made a pass through traffic to set up Ingram for a layup. The freshman then hit her second 3-pointer later in the quarter, making it 53-43 with 2:10 to play.
It came after senior Abby Knedler and junior Corrie Anderson also hit from deep in the second half, key contributions from the Lions’ supplementary scorers.
“That’s critical for us,” Mark Engesser said. “I thought Corrie, Abby and Elleah all stepped up in the second half and made big plays.”
That was enough for Ingram and Engesser to put the game away from the free-throw line. Ingram led the Lions with 22 points, while Hoekert and Engesser added 15 and 14, respectively.
Ingram and Engesser, both signed to play college basketball, headline the Lions ahead of Friday’s semifinal against No. 3 Pagosa Springs, but the team’s top freshman offered a glimpse of CSCS’ future Thursday.
“She hit some great shots tonight, big shots and big layups,” coach Engesser said.
“A few too many turnovers for my liking, but she played good for a freshman.”