Battle of the Bulldogs: Moffat County basketball faces off with University to start state tourney
EATON — Thanks to a mix-up with their uniforms, Moffat County High School girls varsity basketball players will have at least one memorable anecdote about the start of the 3A state tournament.
But, donning different colors Friday will likely be the thing they’ll remember the most about the close of the season.
MCHS girls fell 50-41 in an upset by Greeley’s University Bulldogs, the tourney’s No. 21 seed compared to Moffat County at 12th.
In what was set to be a battle of the Bulldogs, MoCo girls instead headed out on the court of Eaton High School — one of eight hosts of the weekend’s regional events, the Round of 32 and Saturday’s Sweet 16 — dressed in the jerseys of the Fightin’ Reds, borrowing the attire of Eaton players after an issue with their own home jerseys, which they were required to wear as the higher seed.
Despite being clad in white and scarlet instead of their usual royal blue while tipping off against their navy doppelgangers, Bulldog pride — Red Dog? — was prevalent from the start as Madie Weber drained a three-pointer to kick things off with Kinlie Brennise following suit.
Tiffany Hildebrandt put up one from the post, while Weber added a layup and sophomore Emaleigh Papierski sunk her own shot from beneath as the first non-senior to score for MCHS in the match to put them ahead 12-10 to end the first period.
Freshman Halle Hamilton sunk a 3 to start the second quarter with Hildy back in the paint, Brennise adding another triple and Papierski a hook shot to get the Lady Dogs their biggest lead of the night at 22-15.
However, University barked back, adding another nine points off a combination of high-pressure jumpers and free throw success, overtaking MoCo at 24-22 to end the opening half.
After keeping the pace slow, University played stall ball for a good minute in the third period before Moffat County’s Jaidyn Steele got fed up with the tactic, snatched the ball and got a fastbreak bucket to tie it at 24.
Hamilton’s first trip to the foul line got it evened up again at 26, but from there, University got on a run, adding 13 straight points before Hamilton and Brennise thundered back down the court to get back on track with a combined six to make it 39-32 going into the last quarter.
“They got on a roll, and we just struggled. We did get on our own run for a bit, but we never should have got down by that many,” Hamilton said.
University doubled down on their keep-away antics to keep the clock ticking and their shooting minimal, while Lady Dogs’ attempts on the rim weren’t falling as frequently as they needed, with their increased defensive efforts creating late free throw opportunities for U’s Daphne Halverson and Taylor Gollhofer.
“We had our chances to be better, and sometimes the ball just doesn’t roll your way,” MCHS coach Jim Loughran said. “We had seniors who did a lot for us. I thought we played well. We cooled off a little, but we played well.”
MCHS ends the year 17-6, while University moves to 14-9 and faces Patriot League rival Eaton in Saturday’s Sweet 16 after the Reds downed MoCo’s fellow Western Slope team Coal Ridge 48-33 Friday.
In senior scoring, Brennise had 10 points, Weber nine, Hildy five and Steele two in what would be their final high school game.
“I’ll definitely miss these girls,” Weber said.
Though not all the seniors were able to finish the season — Quinn Pinnt couldn’t travel to Eaton following surgery — upperclassman Brittnee Meats noted the night was a memorable one if not the ending the team desired.
“It was a rough, bittersweet last game, but we fought,” she said.
Having to switch jerseys took them by surprise, she added, though even with the different numbers and color scheme, it was hardly a factor in game play.
“A uniform’s a uniform,” Meats said. “It was definitely a good year, good memories.”
Hamilton led the team in total points with 11, while Papierski added four. Juniors Stephenie Swindler and Jenna Timmer also collected multiple minutes, while Hamilton’s fellow freshmen, Rylie Felten, Reese Weber and Jacie Evenson, filled out the rest of the roster.
Felten rotated in repeatedly, which she said was “nerve-wracking” given the playoff atmosphere.
“I think everybody was kind of nervous and overwhelmed, but it was so much fun. Having all the seniors there to encourage us and help us through was so awesome,” Felten said.
The introductory season to MCHS hoops was one Hamilton said she will cherish, working her way up to starter and playing alongside older talent.
“I love every senior, they made it the best season,” she said.
Hildebrandt likewise said she’ll be looking back fondly on her last year of basketball between the faithful fans and beloved teammates.
“I’m going to miss everyone and playing on the court, but at the same time, we have the memories,” she said. “We played as a team and worked hard together.”
When in doubt, stick to the animal kingdom, blockbuster movies and children’s literature. The winners of the 20th annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous were named Saturday evening to conclude the yearly festival that sees tree stumps become works of art in a matter of four days.