On senior night it was a sophomore who stole the spotlight.
Rachel Espinoza scored five of her game-high 23 points during a 10-0 opening second half run as Colorado State University-Pueblo finished the regular season on a high note, defeating Mesa State College 79-58.
The ThunderWolves seized control of the game early in the second half after the Mavericks hot shooting in the first half kept the score close.
“Our defense set the tone for everything we did offensively in the second half,” CSU-Pueblo coach Kip Drown said.
The teams went into the locker room with the score tied at 37.
Mesa Sate offset their 14 first half turnovers by shooting 59 percent from the field. Hannah Breidel led the Mavericks attack with 15 points, shooting 5-of-7 on her 3-point attempts in the half.
The ThunderWolves struggled to put points on the scoreboard early. After trailing 14-7, CSU-Pueblo found their scoring touch during a 16-1 run and took their first lead of the game during the five-minute stretch.
The ThunderWolves ratcheted up their defensive pressure in the second half, holding the Mavericks to 21 points.
Kristi Arness added a career-high 10 points for the Pack, all coming in the second half.
With the victory, CSU-Pueblo clinched fourth-place in RMAC play and will host Metro State in the first round of the conference tournament on Tuesday night at Massari Arena.
“When we were at Adams State, we talked about it before the game that if we win tonight and go home and win four, I can’t promise you, but I think we’ll get a home playoff game and that’s exactly what happened,” Drown said.
The Pack finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak and won eight of its last 10 games.
Five seniors were honored before the game in an emotional ceremony. Seniors Michelle Ambuul, Jonnie Draper, Mary Rehfeld and Shandryn Trumble each played their last regular season home game at Massari Arena. Danielle Pritchett was unable to play due to a knee injury.
Rehfeld appeared in her 115th career game, moving into second-place on the ThunderWolves’ all-time games played list. If CSU-Pueblo advances to the RMAC Shootout championship game, she will become the ThunderWolves’ all-time games played leader.
Draper tied her career-high with five steals in the contest and had a hand in creating many of the Mavericks’ 27 turnovers.
The ThunderWolves outscored Mesa State 42-21 in the second half.
“We talked all about defense,” said Drown of his halftime pep talk. “We were going to come out and get after them in man and we were going to take out number 22.”
Breidel was held scoreless after the intermission.
Denver Nuggets mascot Rocky revved up the Massari Arena crowd with a special appearance during halftime. Rocky threw prizes into the crowd and capped his performance with a front-flip over five spectators squatting next to each other at midcourt.
The final 21-point margin marked the ThunderWolves’ largest victory of the season.