LOVELAND – With a little more than two minutes remaining in the Class 2A state championship game Saturday night, Makenna Sutter subbed out of the game for the final time in her prep career.

The lone senior on Merino’s girls basketball team received an ovation from her teammates and the Rams faithful at Blue Arena. With the game – and the team’s first title since 2002 – already in hand, it was a chance for Merino to give Sutter the moment she had earned.

“It was sad,” Sutter said after Merino captured the 2A crown with a 61-45 victory over Burlington. “It’s sad to be the only one leaving. My sister, my cousin and my uncle – it’s just a family. We’ve built such a friendship with each other.

“I’m just going to be sad to leave, but just so happy for the team.”

Merino finished the season with a perfect 27-0 record in claiming its first championship in the 2A classification. The Rams won two titles in 1A and one in A-II.

The victory also provided some closure after Merino fell in the 2023 championship to Sedgwick County.

“Last year was our first year at state,” said Sutter, who scored a game-high 21 points Saturday. “We had some rough patches and we definitely used that to propel us this year at state. I think it showed how we came out and worked today.”

The Rams opened up a 16-5 lead after the first quarter over Burlington (21-5), forcing 11 turnovers. The Cougars pulled to within two midway through the second quarter on a My Lee 3-pointer, but Merino finished the half on a 23-6 run.

Sophomore Jade Powell added 17 points for Merino and Brooklyn Sutter had 10. Sophomore Kya Piel, the team’s leading scorer, finished with eight while directing the offense.

“I’m so proud of them,” Piel said. “It’s awesome to see that.”

Burlington senior Trinitee Holmes paced the Cougars with 21 points while playing the entire second half with four fouls. Lee had 10 points, and Kiyarra Williams finished with eight while being held in check and facing foul trouble of her own.

“Our defense is built around just working hard,” Piel said. “Veronica Baray did a great job in man.

“Our defense was amazing.”

Burlington had won 11 in a row coming into the championship game. The Cougars only have three seniors, including Holmes. Williams, the team’s leading scorer, is only a sophomore.

With Makenna Sutter being the only senior for Merino, and the Rams having only two juniors as well, the core of the team is underclassmen.

That’s a scary prospect for the rest of the 2A classification going into next season.

“We’ve been working for this for years to try and build this foundation,” Sutter said. “I’m lucky to have leaders before me that have shown me how to do it. I could not have done it without my teammates.”

That said, Sutter’s presence will definitely be missed.

“She led us to this,” Piel said. “She’s amazing.”