Blake Najera, Moffat County High School junior, looks to pass after a rebound during Saturday night's home game against Rifle. The Bulldogs lost, 65-63.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Blake Najera, Moffat County High School junior, looks to pass after a rebound during Saturday night's home game against Rifle. The Bulldogs lost, 65-63.

The learning game

Bulldogs boys close in loss; looking to learn how to win

— There's hustle.

There's resolve to come back.

There's talent.

The only thing missing for the Moffat County High School boys basketball team is a league win, and that comes from learning how to win, coach Steve Maneotis said.

Saturday's 65-63 home loss to Rifle (4-6 overall, 1-1 in league) was proof of that - another close game with opportunities to win, but missed free throws and shots in the final minute led to the Bulldogs' third loss in Western Slope games.

"I think we're heading in the right direction," the coach said. "We're right there, knocking on the door. We've just got to learn to kick it in."

After a back-and-forth first half, the Bulldogs (1-9 overall, 0-3 in league play) were down one, 27-26, and looked poised to stay close.

But, the Achilles heel of the Bulldogs this season has been the third quarter, Maneotis said, and Saturday's loss was no different.

Rifle's Scott Rust scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the frame, as the Bears outscored the Bulldogs 27-19 to give Rifle a 54-45 lead entering the fourth quarter.

"Scott Rust got really hot in the third quarter," Maneotis said. After that, "We put Colton Conrad on him, and he didn't score in the fourth quarter. Colton just did an outstanding job on him."

Enter the aforementioned hustle, resolve and talent.

Down by as many as 12 in the final frame, the Bulldogs rallied back, with Conrad and point guard Mike Peters scoring 10 of the Bulldogs' final 12 points.

With just more than a minute left in the game, Peters stole the ball on the Bears' baseline, dribbled the length of the court and hit a driving layup to tie the game, 63-63.

Not bad for a player who was not expected to play after injuring his knee the night before - a player who started Saturday out on crutches and had to ride an exercise bike when he wasn't in the game to keep his legs warm.

Before the game, "We were able to get some treatment done on him, then workout, and he stepped it up and said, 'Coach, I'm playing,'" Maneotis said. "He probably played the best game he's played all year."

Despite the late game heroics, the Bulldogs could not close the game out.

Enter learning how to win.

Hazen Moss' only bucket of the game proved to be the game-winning shot for Rifle, but Moffat County had opportunities afterward, including a chance to tie the game on free throws after Rust was called for a technical foul with 14 seconds on the clock. The free throws were missed, and so were the following opportunities in the game's waning seconds.

"This is the type of game that I'm proud of because it was a great team effort," Maneotis said. "We're down by 12 in the fourth quarter, we come back, we tie it. The sour part of it is that we, unfortunately, could not get the ball to roll in. We missed some crucial free throws at the end, but that certainly didn't lose it for us.

"We're 0-3 in league, but by no means are we out of it. We're playing people well, and if we can get these three teams on the backside (of the schedule), we'll be right where we need to be."

For Moffat County, Eli Buckner and Conrad each finished with 15 points; Peters and Blake Najera each scored 10; Chayton Owens had 8; and Thomas Noble, 5.

For Rifle, Keenan Ross had 10; Eric Laudick, 6; Tyler Rust,18; and Drew Blatchford, 5.

Up next, the Bulldogs visit Fruita on Tuesday for a makeup game.

"They're good, and they're a 5A team," Maneotis said. "It should have been a preseason game, but it got rescheduled, which makes for a tough week, because we go back Friday and Saturday, and we've got Palisade and Delta. Palisade is ranked 10th in the state, and they're playing great basketball right now."

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