When it comes to Western Slope League girls basketball, the 21st century has belonged to Rifle and Moffat County. No other team has won the league title, and at this point it appears it will be no different this year.
The Bears and Bulldogs go into tonight ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in Class 4A. They have identical records of 12-1 overall and 5-0 in the WSL.
"There's a lot of basketball left, but the winner today has a step up on the title," Moffat coach Craig Mortensen said.
Right now, Rifle might have the step up, because Moffat's one loss came to the Bears in December. Rifle defeated MoCo, 61-51, to win the WSL tournament.
Bears' coach Rick Schmitz didn't think the first meeting has any significance going into tonight's 7:30 game in Craig.
"That game was six to seven weeks ago," he said. "It doesn't mean much now."
What the two basketball programs have meant to each other is a challenge in the relatively weak WSL.
The Bulldogs have lost eight games to league teams in the last five seasons. Five of those came against the Bears.
Overall, Moffat is the only league team against whom Rifle doesn't have a winning record (the Bulldogs lead 7-5) during that time.
Rifle has won the last three games.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for what coach Mortensen does," Schmitz said. "Moffat is always hard to prepare for."
The Bears' game plan the first time around was to put pressure on the Bulldog guards. Rifle's full-court press frustrated the Bulldogs, Mortensen said.
"Their press was effective," Mortensen said. "We were tentative in attacking the basket, and we also missed a lot of good shots."
Despite struggling on offense, the Bulldogs were within four points with less than two minutes remaining. The Bears pulled away with free-throw shooting in the final minutes.
Rifle was 23 for 33 from the free-throw line while the Bulldogs were five for 10.
"I expect them to pressure our guards again," Mortensen said. "They match up well against us, and they do a good job on defense."
The 51 points that Moffat scored in its loss to Rifle was its lowest total all season against a league team.
Both coaches agreed that the rankings didn't mean much but that this game was important for postseason seeds.
"The winner of the league should have a top-8 seed in the state tournament," Mortensen said. "In this league, the top seed is important, because who knows where they'll put everybody else?"
A weak track record in the playoffs for the WSL has traditionally meant a tough seed in the postseason bracket. The last two years the Bulldogs have faced teams that made the state championship in the first round.
This is a lot of talk about postseason; the WSL season isn't half over. But the league title could be decided as soon as next weekend.
The league leaders face each other on back-to-back weekends.
"Even if we win here, we have to go down there," Mortensen said.
"I guess we better win up here."
The girls will share the court with no one today. They are the main event with the boys team in Rifle. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.