PALISADE -- The relief could be seen on the faces of the Moffat County High School girls basketball starters as they sat on the bench during the fourth quarter of the Palisade game.
"I never like to sit on the bench," senior Ashlee Hafey said. "But it was nice to not be nervous about the game toward the end."
The Bulldogs failed to pull away from Steamboat Springs Thursday and lost on a last-second shot. It looked as if Moffat County was going to let Palisade hang around through the first half again Friday as they trailed 27-25 at halftime.
The second half was a different story.
"We were letting Palisade do whatever they wanted in the first half on offense," coach Craig Mortensen said. "On offense we were forcing the ball inside too much."
Palisade had seven blocked shots in the first half. Mortensen attributed the blocks not only to Palisade, but to his team's predictability.
"They were looking for us to go inside and it's all we did," he said. "We put up too many rushed shots."
With renewed focus after halftime, the blue-and-white Bulldogs came out and scored the first four baskets to take a 33-27 lead.
Their run was on.
"They started trying to deny us more on the perimeter and it opened things up," said Hafey, who had 12 assists in the game. "It allowed us to drive and dish more."
The guards' penetration was a benefit for sophomore Amber Sanchez, who hit six short-range jumpers in the second half when her defender left her to stop the penetration. Sanchez scored 18 in the game and was 7-of-10 from the field.
Moffat County finished the third quarter up by seven points, 43-36.
In the fourth quarter Palisade didn't have a way to stop Moffat County's building momentum.
Moffat County scored 24 points in the fourth quarter, one less than the whole first half, to create a 20-point lead.
Halfway through the quarter the starters were resting and Mortensen was breathing easier than 24 hours ago.
"It was nice to relax a little," he said. "We had a lot of contributions from everybody tonight and that was nice to see."
Mari Katherine Raftopoulos also scored in double figures for Moffat County with 14 points.
The victorious Bulldogs will play Glenwood Springs today at 11 a.m. for the final playoff spot coming out of the district tournament. If they win, they'll go the regional tournament.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 211 or by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.