Guard Zach Whitmore converted on a driving layup following a steal, and Scott Rust made a game-clinching free throw with 11 seconds to play, lifting the Rifle Bears to a 57-55 victory over visiting Moffat County on Saturday.
In contrast, missed free throws in the final 1:30 hurt the Bulldogs' chance at a victory.
The game was close throughout as both teams combined stingy defense and good ball movement on the offensive end in the Class 4A Western Slope encounter.
The game's turning point may have come at the 4:38 mark in the third period when Moffat County's Evan Hertzog, who had 11 points while playing a solid inside game, was whistled for a double technical foul.
With the Bears (1-1 in league, 4-6 overall) leading 31-30 at that point, Rust stepped to the line and sunk three of the four technical foul free throws to extend the Bears' lead over the Bulldogs (0-2, 2-7).
Seconds later, 6-foot-2 junior post J.T. Haddan picked up his fourth foul of the game and was forced to take a seat.
Rust was fouled on a 3-point attempt with .8 seconds to go in the third quarter and hit all three free throws to give his team a 45-42 lead with eight minutes to play.
Rifle couldn't seem to shake the Bulldogs in the decisive fourth quarter. Keenan Ross tried to give the Bears some breathing room when he converted on a 3-point play the old-fashioned way -- a drive to the hoop and a free throw -- to put Rifle up, 53-48. But Moffat County tied the score at 53 all when Mike Peters hit an inside shot of his own.
Rifle, with good ball movement throughout the game and a solid group of quick guards, was able to set the stage for Whitmore and Rust to take care of matters at the end.
The Bears were led in scoring by Scott Rust with 14 points including two 3-pointers. Drew Blatchford chipped in 10 points. Moffat County was paced by junior Eli Buckner with 12 points.
The Bulldogs have a quick turnaround, visiting Steamboat Tuesday night for a 7:30 game.