Moffat County High School basketball teams start playoffs Thursday at home

If you go

What: Moffat County boys and girls basketball district playoff openers

When: Thursday; girls tip-off at 5:30 p.m. vs. Aspen or Basalt, and boys play at 7 p.m. vs. Gunnison

Where: Moffat County High School gym

— The Moffat County High School basketball teams find themselves in must-win situations this week when the postseason tips off Thursday.

First up for the Bulldogs is the district tournament, beginning Thursday in Craig and continuing Friday and Saturday in Palisade. The top four teams from the district tournament qualify for regionals.

But while a win Thursday would secure a regionals bid for both Moffat County teams, they have higher aspirations than the district semifinals.

Girls look to keep it rolling

As the top seed in the tournament and winners of 14 straight games, Moffat County’s girls basketball team has its sights set on a district title. That opportunity will start at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Moffat County High School when the Bulldogs take on either Aspen or Basalt.

Aspen and Basalt face off in a play-in game for the right to visit Craig. Whichever team wins, it should be a winnable matchup for the Bulldogs.

In two games this season, Moffat County has beaten Aspen, 62-19, and 63-21. Against Basalt, the Bulldogs won 72-28 at home and 75-51 on the road, their two highest point totals of the season.

Head coach Matt Ray will look for more of the same regardless of Moffat County’s opponent.

“We’ve got to play Thursday like it’s a normal playoff game,” Ray said. “We’ve got to come out and play hard, play like we can and the game will take care of itself if we do that.”

Games Friday and Saturday, while not make or break, are still important for the Bulldogs going forward. Two wins this weekend would likely make Moffat County the host of the regional tournament games March 7 and 8.

“We want another home game,” Ray said. “I don’t want to travel anywhere, so that’s our goal, is to get those games.”

With potentially three games in three days coming up, Ray is not changing his team’s preparation.

“We play hard the whole game and I think if we play our style where we press or play hard-nose defense, most teams we’ll be all right against,” he said.

Boys have tough road ahead

Moffat County’s boys team, on the other hand, has a more interesting matchup on its hands.

The Bulldogs will take on Gunnison at 7 p.m. Thursday in Craig, and they’ll be looking for a stronger performance than the one they gave the last time they met the Cowboys. After a 10-point win at Gunnison, Moffat County saw a big lead dwindle as low as six points in the fourth quarter when it hosted the Cowboys on Feb. 2.

They won 55-46, but head coach Eric Hamilton was not impressed.

“We haven’t played well either time against Gunnison,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know what it is. We match up fine with them, we’ve just got to come out with intensity and take it to them.”

Hamilton thinks intensity won’t be an issue with postseason play on the line.

“These guys are pumped,” he said Tuesday. “We had a great practice (Monday) night, they know everything’s do or die now. We’re ready.”

Even if the boys win, tough games loom ahead. To win the district tournament they would likely have to beat Aspen and Roaring Fork, teams responsible for their only three losses this season.

But this team feels confident and thinks it is capable of bringing back a district championship.

“We want to be there Saturday afternoon playing for the district championship,” Hamilton said. “That’s where we think we belong. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 875-1795 or nwaggenspack@craigdailypress.com.

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