Moffat County basketball keeps heads high amid tough playoff games
As the second season truly gets underway for the 3A Western Slope League, all teams involved are playing to stay alive, and a past victory or push to overtime against an opponent is hardly a guarantee.
Moffat County High School hoops teams found that out the hard way Tuesday night as both Bulldog squads found themselves eliminated from the 3A WSL district playoff picture.
Tale of two halfs
In one instance after another of high-adrenaline fourth quarter action for Moffat County High School boys basketball, none was so close as a road game in Delta on Feb. 7 that saw a 67-all score to end regulation play.
The Panthers clinched the win that night at 79-75, leaving the Bulldogs to mull over their loss and await the next time the two would meet.
That wound up being sooner than expected with the two paired for the district quarterfinals in Craig.
MCHS’s stronger league record of 6-3 placed them fourth in the conference compared to the 5-4 Panthers, and the home court advantage was apparent early in the Tuesday match.
A 5-0 start and a seven-point run shortly afterward for the Dogs segued to an 18-11 end to the first period, Delta starting to catch up with a buzzer-beater triple.
MoCo’s shooting game stayed on target in the second quarter as Wesley Counts hit his second three-pointer of the night and added a few closer field goals while Chris Maneotis, Jordan Carlson and Jerod Chacon were staying stalwart at the free throw line.
A halftime lead of 30-23 had spectators excited, but the crowd’s energy started to wane when a trio of triples by the Panthers — two by Felipe Bedoy and one by Javier Median — suddenly had the score evened up at 32.
Shaken but not broken up about the unexpected tie, Bulldogs carried on, yet they would never regain the lead, trailing 48-43 at the close of the third quarter.
“We played really tentative, didn’t play with the confidence we had in the first half,” head coach Steve Maneotis said.
He added that a press defense by Delta was clearly having some impact on his players, though not so much that it overwhelmed them.
“That pressure just took us out of what we needed to be doing,” he said.
Big blocks by Carlson, Myles Simpson and Landen Najera were keeping the Panthers’ inside game contained in the second half, yet Delta mixed it up with outside shooting as well, with Bedoy in particular catching fire with 18 points throughout the evening, all from the arc.
The closest the score came was 48-47, but a combination of perimeter sniping and follow-through at the foul line helped Panthers stay in front, whereas MoCo lost its mojo when faced with extra point possibilities.
The night finished with a 72-55 score in Delta’s favor, as Counts led in scoring with 23 points, Najera 14, Carlson six, Simpson and Chacon four each, and Ryan Peck and Chris Maneotis two each.
Delta moves along to the district semifinals this weekend in Grand Junction, a tournament that will see mostly lower seeds in the boys brackets.
Besides fifth-seed Delta, No. 7 Aspen upset league runner-up Coal Ridge 61-59, while No. 6 Roaring Fork outlasted three-seeded Grand Valley 38-36, though WSL champ Gunnison remains the team to beat with a 76-51 victory over Olathe.
Coming to play
For the first time since entering the 3A division, MCHS girls hoops will not be entering the district semifinals.
Lady Bulldogs’ road rematch against the Grand Valley Cardinals wound up being a far cry from their first meeting this season, which Lady Dogs won 44-34, though a 5-4 finish in the conference had Craig girls ranked sixth.
Tuesday night in Parachute could not have gone any more differently as the Cards earned a semifinal berth in a crushing 50-34 loss for Moffat County girls.
Grand Valley gals — seeded third in the WSL tourney — held Lady Dogs to a 13-8 first period and furthered their lead on home court with a 28-20 deficit at halftime.
Head coach Jim Loughran said problems boiled down to basics like letting the Cards force too many turnovers and committing an abundance of first quarter fouls.
“We also had a lot of trouble rebounding tonight,” he said. “They got a lot of seconds on us, and that caused some problems.”
A defensive effort by Grand Valley to neutralize Halle Hamilton also was tough to endure, he added.
“They kind of shut her down and that really affected our balance,” Loughran said. “In some ways we caused our own problems, too.”
The Cardinals truly went on a tear in the third period with a 12-point scoring spree that devastated the Bulldog morale as the third frame ended 45-26 with little chance to change it up in the remaining minutes with Grand Valley already prepared to join fellow top four teams Delta, Cedaredge and Roaring Fork in the district semifinals.
Not finished yet
At 12-8 overall, MCHS girls’ strong record throughout the season combined with a challenging schedule means their chances of qualifying for the regional and state rounds are still favorable in the top 20 of CHSAA’s 3A RPI standings.
The loss at districts may not do much to improve their status in the 32-team field as the postseason picture expands, but Loughran is still anticipating getting the go-ahead for the regional round, which will be announced Sunday.
“We’ll be ready to play there. We’ve got a lot of young kids, and that would be a great experience to still go to regionals,” he said.
On the other hand, a shakier season start for MoCo boys puts any additional playoff possibilities out of reach for the 8-12 group.
Though they’ll lose seniors Najera and Chacon, the squad has plenty of potential in coming years, Carlson said.
“I think we have a lot of talent and a lot of experience coming back next year,” he said.
Maneotis noted he couldn’t have asked any more of his athletes in his first season back heading up Bulldog basketball.
“I’m proud of our kids, proud of our effort. Proud of our seniors and what they did to build a building block for the future. We’ll learn from this, we’re young,” Maneotis said. “I could never question the effort that was on the floor. We went out and battled and just came up short tonight. Next year, we can work on putting back-to-back wins together and really getting on a roll. It’s a learning curve, but the program is better, and I’m proud of our effort.”
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