Ignacio senior Darlyn Mendoza-Lechuga, middle, is escorted off the court by celebratory teammates after her buzzer-beating basket in the lane Friday night, March 1, gave the Lady Bobcats a 44-43 victory over Timnath in the second 3A-Region VI semifinal played inside St. Mary's High School Gymnasium. Mendoza-Lechuga scored a team-high 13 points against the stunned Lady Cubs.
Ignacio senior Darlyn Mendoza-Lechuga dribbles against St. Mary's senior Aylin Luna Zamora during the 3A-Region VI championship game Saturday evening, March 2, inside St. Mary's High School Gymnasium. Mendoza-Lechuga scored a team-high 15 points in a season-ending 45-38 loss to the Lady Pirates.
Ignacio senior Solymar Cosio shoots over St. Mary's sophomore Kylie Lyon (11) during the 3A-Region VI championship game Saturday evening, March 2, inside St. Mary's High School Gymnasium. Cosio scored 14 points in a season-ending 45-38 loss to the Lady Pirates.
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Photo Credit: Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
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Special season ends in the Sweet 16

Lady Bobcats lose 45-38 at St. Mary’s 

Prominent on the wall above the short entryway into St. Mary’s High School (SMHS) Gymnasium is a tally board recording the year-to-year ongoing success of Lady Pirate Basketball inside the building. 

Prior to tip-off Saturday evening, March 2, it showed the program as standing 227-27 upon its home court – pretty much an ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter’ caution to would-be invaders. Exactly when the numbers were last updated was not made available (since the 2014-15 season, SMHS stood 98-4 going in), but to Ignacio’s Lady Bobcats … that didn’t matter. 

Even after witnessing 6-seed SMHS shoo Arvada-based No. 27 Forge Christian out, 59 to 28, of the 2024 CHSAA Class 3A State Tournament’s opening Round-of-32 – also known as the regional semifinals – the previous evening. 

“Yeah, we watched almost the whole game,” IHS senior guard Darlyn Mendoza-Lechuga said, “and then before we played them we had, like, a little session just to review what we were going to do. I think they stuck with their plan from yesterday – they might have changed something, but I don’t know. We were just ready to play, giving it our all.” 

“We came out with nothing to lose,” said senior center Solymar Cosio. “We had no pressure on ourselves or each other because we just came to play our best – and came out to win.” 

Say what? Inside a clover-colored castle where foes often left feeling St. Mary’s-green with envy? 

That’s precisely what the No. 22 Lady ’Cats were bent on accomplishing. 

And when SMHS head coach Caleb Strickland shouted, ‘Act like you’ve played basketball!’ to his players, it was evident Ignacio was on the verge of potentially finishing the fight early. Cosio got the scoring started with a basket inside, and Mendoza-Lechuga – whose buzzer-beating shot in the paint the previous night gave IHS a 44-43 upset of 11-seed Timnath – followed with a three-pointer … and with 3:59 left in the first quarter, another. 

Taking a feed from Cosio, she then cashed yet another three, increasing Ignacio’s improbable lead to 11-2 with 1:53 to go. And after junior DaLaney Wesner hit one of two free throws, Mendoza-Lechuga closed out the quarter somehow making a difficult running two-pointer over a SMHS defender – swelling the visitors’ lead to 14-2 after eight regulation minutes. 

“They were knocking down their shots,” said Strickland. “In a tough playoff when you’re making open shots … it’s going to be a game, and that’s exactly what they were doing. They played great defensively, took care of the ball well – they played a really good game.” 

“Darlyn, the team wanted it,” Ignacio head coach Trae Seibel said. “They fought for that one last night – that game-winning shot’ll play forever in my mind – but the girls, they just wanted to play the game and play for each other. And basketball season’s so long that it’s all about playing your best ball at the right time, and we played it at the right time.” 

Three quarters remained, however, and St. Mary’s showed readiness to dig in for a prolonged battle when sophomore Jaela Pedro followed senior Maeve Salveson’s two made FTs with a trey and a deuce bringing the Lady Pirates back to 14-9. Salveson’s first triple closed the gap to 16-12, and her second … well, may have saved the day for the home team. Following an inbounds pass with 0:06.9 left on the clock, Salveson steadied herself out on the left wing and, despite Mendoza-Lechuga trying to get a hand up in her face, swished her shot to pull SMHS back to 21-19 at halftime. 

“Maeve … she’s reliable all the time. That’s what seniors are, you know?” Strickland said. “She’s been there, done that for us, so you kind of always count on that kid to come up big when she has to.” 

“Just going back to the basics and making sure we run our plays right; that’s basically what got us back into it,” said Salveson. “Usually it’s pass-and-kick – you know, we like our three-pointers – but recently we’re trying to get to the basket, get fouled …. It’s a most efficient way to score.” 

And after Pedro sank a long two with 7:39 left in the third quarter, tying the score at 21-all, the Lady Pirates began doing more of it beginning with sophomore Sydney Ramirez’s go-ahead cut to the basket with 7:08 to go. But a three by senior guard Maci Barnes helped IHS rebuild a 28-23 advantage before St. Mary’s stormed back ahead, 32-30, by quarter’s end, helped by two sharp Pedro cuts through the lane. 

Barnes began the final frame striking again from long range, but Pedro answered with a straightaway trey before the pace began to slow … and fouls began to pile up against the Lady ’Cats. Cosio picked up her second, third and fourth personals within a 4:37 span, and after Lady Pirate junior Hope Chavez swatted away her three-point try, junior guard Marissa Olguin fouled out with 2:01 left in the Sweet 16 showdown. 

Sophomore Kylie Lyon made one of her two FTs, upping SMHS’ lead to 40-34, and Ignacio would get no closer than 42-38 via two Cosio FTs with 0:40 left. After helping the Lady Pirates then burn 17.3 ticks off the clock, Salveson was fouled and sank one of two tries. Senior teammate Aylin Luna Zamora then punctuated a 45-38 win by hitting two with 1.9 seconds left. 

“Something that really changed throughout the game, was us just (having) more fun and being more comfortable,” Pedro said. “This victory was definitely one that we all deserved … after putting in our hard work throughout this season.” 

Helped by an eight-point third quarter, Pedro ended up totaling a game-high 18 points. Salveson wasn’t far behind with her 14, and Ramirez ended up with six. 10-of-18 from the charity stripe during the fourth quarter, SMHS finished 12-of-25. 

Ignacio (9-14 overall) made seven of 13 free throws, with Cosio finishing 6-of-9. After booking just six points against Timnath, she improved to 14 against St. Mary’s while Mendoza-Lechuga, coming off a 13-point performance against the Lady Cubs, tallied a team-high 15 against the Lady Pirates. Barnes (seven versus Timnath) ended up with her six points and Wesner (five versus THS) chipped in three, but Olguin was held scoreless after getting Timnath for ten. 

“It feels really good,” Mendoza-Lechuga said, of winning once and being competitive both times in the Region VI tourney. “I really didn’t expect us to make regionals, honestly, but getting to the Sweet 16 was pretty awesome.” 

“We had our major ups and downs this season; we had times where we had to … pick each other up and just continue to push each other to want to be better,” said Cosio. “We’ve all appreciated and shown our roles on the court; I think that’s what got us this far. To the last second today, no one gave up, and as a captain that’s all I could ask for.” 

“The seniors led us in this run, big-time. All four of them,” Seibel said, speaking of active varsity members Cosio, Mendoza-Lechuga, Barnes and Lauren deKay, “led us to a Sweet 16 berth that hadn’t happened in 3A girls’ basketball for Ignacio since 2003. And we had some good underclassmen that followed them – there’s nothing more I could have asked for.” 

“The girls believed in themselves and what we were trying to do, and they ultimately just pushed through,” he continued. “I’m so proud of this girls’ basketball program and how far we’ve come.” 




St. Mary’s improved to 20-4 overall prior to facing Grand Valley in the ‘Great Eight’ on Thursday, March 7, at 4 p.m. up at the University of Denver. Unbeaten in Western Slope League action this winter, the Lady Cardinals stood 24-0 after thrashing Bailey Platte Canyon 52-15 and Salida 52-32 to clinch Region III at home in Parachute. 

“It’s way too late in the season to change anything major; we’ve just got to clean up the little things – get a little better on the boards, get a little better with the offensive execution,” said Strickland. “Just some small stuff.” 

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