Moffat County basketball mixes it up with Middle Park |

Moffat County basketball mixes it up with Middle Park

The Moffat County High School girls basketball bench is in high spirits against Middle Park.
Andy Bockelman

They may not see each other regularly, but there was no love lost between Moffat County High School and their Thursday opponents on the eve of Valentine’s Day.

It was a mixed night for Bulldog basketball as teams faced their final non-conference opponent of the regular season, with a solid win for girls and a near-comeback for the boys that fell apart in the final minutes.

With a pink and red dress code for the night, Lady Bulldogs had no problem getting into the spirit of the holiday with plentiful passing against the Panthers that contributed greatly to their victory.

Currently standing at second place in the 2A/3A Frontier League, Middle Park girls came in at 9-4 on the year, looking to pick up a 10th win with a disruptive defense that recorded an abundance of steals against MoCo to start.

However, they weren’t turning these takeaways into points, and though it took some time for Bulldogs to get back into the rhythm, Emaleigh Papierski hit the first bucket for the lead the Lady Dogs would hold the whole game.

A 13-7 first quarter led into a second period five-point solo run for Stephenie Swindler, as she hit the team’s first three-pointer and a pair of free throws. The Panthers would add six straight points late in the half, including a buzzer-beating triple by Maddie Trail to go to a three-point deficit at 26-23.

The second half followed suit, but a nine-point run — kicked off by a Jenna Timmer foul shot — started putting the Bulldogs at ease at 40-27. A bucket by Middle Park’s Emry Burns only saw MoCo respond with another seven consecutive points put together by Bree Meats, Reese Weber and Cayden King before Bella Svoboda put in two free throws for the Panthers to end the third quarter 47-31.

As Middle Park started getting frantic, Meats’ nose took the brunt of their frustration with an elbow to the face temporarily taking her out early in the fourth quarter.

Still, her teammates didn’t slow down, and 14 Bulldog points from there was interrupted only once by an Angie Butler field goal to put the win firmly out of reach for the Panthers with the 63-35 MoCo win.

Halle Hamilton led the Lady Dogs in scoring with 18, a return to form for the team’s top point-producer of the 2018-19 season despite feeling a bit off the mark shooting in the past week against Delta and Aspen.

Though recent games didn’t showcase her skills at the rim as much, Hamilton said she’s made a point to be a playmaker for others when scoring isn’t happening.

“I don’t really worry about scoring, because compared to last year there’s some changes. I know I’ll get back into it,” she said. “It was all my teammates who set me up.”

Papierski was close behind with 15 points in another double-digit night.

“I was just focusing on little stuff like defense and my rebounding and letting the other stuff just come naturally,” Papierski said. “We came out a lot stronger in the second half. Our goal was to go hard the whole game and not be tired.”

King put up 11, while Swindler added seven as the majority of the roster contributed to the scoreboard.

“We knew this would be a good game and we didn’t expect it to be low-scoring, but we were trying to get back into our defense after Delta,” Hamilton said.

The trend of the first team to hit the hoop being the victor played into the boys game as well, as a 12-4 first period didn’t bode well for the Bulldogs.

Neither side was seeing much success shooting early — with the Panthers one for 10 in three-pointers in the first quarter alone and two for 19 in the half — but the Dogs’ second quarter performance on the boards helped them make up the deficit as Landen Najera, Jordan Carlson and Hector Salazar were grabbing rebounds aplenty and Ryan Peck hit two from the charity stripe to get within one basket at 17-15.

However, Middle Park put together seven points from the foul line and outside the arc to make it 24-15 as teams took a break.

Najera and Carlson were on the attack again in the third quarter — as were Jerod Chacon and Myles Simpson — but the Panthers were just as aggressive in the paint as Middle Park led 35-28 to end the period.

Bulldog boys started to find their groove once again in the fourth as back-to-back blocks by Simpson stifled the Panthers and MoCo made their efforts count at the foul line with Carlson, Najera and Wesley Counts on the mark.

With a Najera jumper, once again the home team was within two points at 45-43.

Then four.

Then three as Najera hit a free throw with just over a minute remaining.

Before they knew it, however, the Panthers took over the momentum from Moffat County as Middle Park’s Alec Laraby drew one foul after another to go for four for six from the line to hand the Dogs a 51-44 loss.

As close as it got during the evening, Chacon said the struggles to keep possession were what ultimately did in the Dogs.

“We’ve really gotta cut back on turnovers,” he said.

Najera put together 17 points to lead in scoring, while Counts hit the only Bulldog triple in a nine-point night, just ahead of Carlson’s eight.

MCHS teams will get back into 3A Western Slope League play in the next week as Bulldogs travel Saturday to Carbondale against Roaring Fork.

The 12-5 girls will look to overcome a strong contender in the Rams — 10-5 leading up to their Friday night match in Cedaredge — while 7-10 Bulldog boys seek to stay high in the conference rankings against a squad that has struggled greatly this season at 3-12.

Teams will complete the WSL run Feb. 20 at home against Coal Ridge for Senior Night.

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