Going into the district championships this week in Grand Junction, the Moffat County High School basketball team has one major goal -- win its first game and it's in the state tournament for the first time in four years.
After this weekend, they have proof they can play with almost everybody in the tournament.
Against Rifle Friday, they lost count of how many times they could have won the game, including two shots in the last 25 seconds with the score tied, 46-46. In overtime, the Bulldogs missed five free throws and scored one point in five minutes as the Bears continued their undefeated season in the Western Slope Conference with a 50-47 win.
"The simple fact was that we didn't hit free throws," coach Mike LeWarne said. "When you miss the front end of five one-and-ones down the stretch, things are not going to end in your favor."
It didn't get any easier for the Bulldogs Saturday as they traveled to Glenwood Springs to play in what LeWarne called a "shoe box."
"Glenwood is such a tough place to play because it is so small and the fans are right on the court," he said. "We also had to come off an emotional game against Rifle and they were going for a higher seed in the tournament."
The Bulldogs led at halftime by six and opened up the lead to 11 points in the second half. When they went into their spread offense to run off some time, LeWarne said the Bulldogs struggled to hit their shots.
The Demons whittled the lead down to two in the final minute, but the visitors held on to win, 57-55. Anthony Loughran led the Bulldogs with 13 field goals and a season high, 28 points.
With the win, the boys finished the Western Slope Conference with a 9-3 record and in second place. Their record earned them a third seed in the district tournament behind Rifle and Montezuma-Cortez. The Bulldogs will take on the Demons in the first round at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Central High School in Grand Junction.
The Bulldogs have beat every team in the tournament except Rifle and Montezuma-Cortez, who they haven't played, but is the third ranked team in the state and likely to play them in the second round.
"Our main focus is to win that first game," LeWarne said. "We have a good record and it should get us a decent seed in the state tournament, as long as we can get that first game."
With a first round win it would secure the Bulldogs a top-four spot in the tournament and five teams move on to play in the state bracket.
LeWarne said that he thought any of the top-four teams from the WSC could beat each other, so it was important not to underestimate any opponents.
"Depending on which team shows up at the tournament, anybody can get out," he said. "We just need to keep improving as we have all year and I think we have a pretty good chance of making it out and getting a home game in the regional."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.