FRUITA -- If the Moffat County boys basketball team ever scrimmaged against itself, it may have looked like a game against Montrose.
"When I watched Moffat County play last night I told the coaches I thought we matched up really well," Montrose coach Dwight Rawlings said. "We had the same ability and same style."
Physical aspects made the teams near mirror images of each other. Neither team has a lot of height; they rely on defense as their strength; and if they get a chance to get out and run the floor, they won't hesitate.
Experiences at the district tournament were also similar up until the teams' meeting. Both teams were surprised in the first round in games against teams they had beaten earlier in the season. Then they came back with relatively easy wins in the second round.
"This game could have easily been the third- and fourth-place game," Rawlings said. "Both teams had to come back from tough losses."
The score throughout the game was more proof of how evenly matched the teams were. The biggest lead for either team was Montrose by five twice in the game, at 41-36 in the fourth quarter and 21-16 in the first.
"We played in close games all year in the Southwestern League," Rawlings said. "Two weeks ago we lost back-to-back overtime games."
Close-game experience may have been the difference in a 45-42 win for Montrose
With 55 seconds left in the game the Bulldogs' Cody Palmer hit a three pointer to bring his team within one point, 40-41.
The Bulldogs then fouled Tyler Rawlings to stop the clock. Rawlings was the man for Montrose in the second half as he scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. Two of his points opened the Indians' lead to 43-40.
The Bulldogs turned over the ball on the next possession and immediately fouled.
Montrose missed both free throws with 33 seconds left to give the Bulldogs a chance, but they were unable to rebound the second miss. Rawlings rebounded the free throw and was fouled. He sealed the game and a continuation of his team's season with two free throws.
Derek Duran hit a free throw to bring the final score to 45-42.
The loss ended the Bulldogs' season.
"That box out wasn't the only mistake we made in the game," Moffat coach Mike LeWarne said. "We can't blame any individual for the loss. In such a close game each little thing costs you."
The little things sent the Bulldogs home without any practice plans this week. Their sixth-place finish wasn't enough to get into the regional tournament, ending the high school basketball careers of Palmer, Anthony Loughran, Georgie Raftopoulos, Kelvin Grinolds and Kyle Eitel.
"I'm proud of our guys," LeWarne said. "They had an up-and-down season and always got back up for me."
Palmer led the Bulldogs in scoring with 15 points, followed by Loughran's eight.
Montezuma-Cortez defeated Steamboat Springs in the title game of the tournament, 43-31, and Palisade finished in third place with a 69-59 defeat of Rifle.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 970-824-7031 ext 211 or firstname.lastname@example.org