Moffat County basketball teams look to rebound from districts heading into regionals
For the Craig Press
It wasn’t the best weekend for Moffat County High School basketball teams, but, on the positive side, it won’t be the last set of games this season.
MCHS boys and girls teams will each move on to the regional stage of the 3A CHSAA state championships, with brackets announced Sunday.
MoCo boys are seeded 29th among 32 teams, heading to No. 4 Colorado Academy in Denver this week, whereas the 22nd seed Bulldog girls will head south to Pagosa Springs, the host of their first match against the 11-ranked Colorado Springs Christian School.
Both Bulldog teams are coming off a two-day run at the 3A Western Slope League district tournament this past weekend, which featured some hard-to-swallow defeats.
Though the Moffat County energy was high with the spirit squad in tow, the district semifinals Friday afternoon in the gym of Grand Junction’s Central High School started with a 51-44 loss for MoCo girls to Grand Valley.
Though they defeated the highly ranked Cardinals 50-39 earlier this season, the Dogs were behind 15-10 in the first quarter and were consistently trailing by a few buckets for the rest of the match as Grand Valley girls were on their game.
MCHS senior Halle Hamilton led with 16 points, senior Rylie Felten earned nine, and junior Lizzy LeWarne had eight.
Hamilton, LeWarne, and senior Jacie Evenson combined for four three-pointers, but it was no match for the Cards’ outside shooting, as Grand Valley hit seven triples in addition to plenty of shots within the arc.
The following day wasn’t much better, as MoCo was paired with the North Fork Miners, who’d fallen to top-ranked Delta on Friday.
While the Bulldogs had beaten North Fork 41-35 earlier this month, it was a far different energy this time.
Following an early swish from Hamilton at the top of the key, the Miners went on a 12-point run before senior Reese Weber answered back with a layup that ended the first period 14-5.
North Fork stayed in the lead for the rest of the game, with MCHS briefly coming within one point late in the fourth quarter before repeated fouls let the Miners sink six straight free throws to win it 41-34.
Hamilton added 11 points and Evenson 10 in the outing that placed Lady Dogs fourth in the tourney.
On the line at the line
While MCHS girls’ games were spent playing catch-up, Bulldog boys saw their matches take a turn after being in front for long stretches of each game.
The Friday game against Delta saw the MoCo men leap out to a 9-0 lead to start a 15-14 opening quarter. The Panthers — who defeated the Dogs 59-42 back in January — tied it up three times from there before taking the slight lead at 29-28 at the break.
A neck-and-neck third period gave way to 10 straight Panther points, as Delta truly broke away with a 45-40 lead heading into the fourth quarter and maintaining their level of play to win it 65-52.
Seniors Myles Simpson and Ryan Peck led scoring with 16 points and 10 points, respectively, followed by sophomore Bryant Carlson with nine.
Ready to start anew Saturday, the Bulldogs were set to take on Coal Ridge, who had been shut down 60-27 by Aspen in the district semis.
Moffat County led 10-7 after eight minutes and 17-16 at halftime, and, after putting up 21 points in the third quarter, a Bulldog win looked imminent with a 38-29 scoreboard in their favor.
But the Titans weren’t giving up without a fight, with a nine-point run bringing them within reach.
After Peck fouled out of the game late in the fourth, Coal Ridge snuck ahead at 45-43 with dual trips to the charity stripe.
With seven seconds remaining, Bryant Carlson drove to the rim, and though his layup attempt did not fall, he drew a fifth and final foul for Titan Eddie Salazar and had the chance to tie it up again.
With the Coal Ridge crowd keeping it loud, Bryant hit the first free throw and, with the pressure at its utmost, sent in a second shot that slowly circled the rim before dropping to tremendous applause.
At 45-all, the game went into overtime, the first occasion in extra minutes the Bulldogs have seen this year. Fouls were stacking up on both sides, and no sooner had Coal Ridge’s James Webber gotten benched than the same thing happened to Bryant Carlson.
After Titan Andres Mendoza hit two more free throws to get the 53-51 lead in his 21-point day, the Dogs had one second remaining on the clock, with a broken-up inbound pass sealing the deal for Coal Ridge.
The loss wasn’t without its positives. Three Bulldog players were in double digits for scoring, with senior Logan Hafey earning 14 points, Simpson 13 and Bryant Carlson 11. Peck compiled five assists with nine rebounds, Jordan Carlson took seven boards, and fellow senior Nick Crookston added three big blocks.
“We just missed too many free throws down the stretch in a tight ball game. Missing our leading scorer and rebounder through the whole overtime hurts We’ve gotta be more disciplined early so we can have our starters at the end,” said MoCo coach Mark Carlson. “We’ve gotta stick to the gameplan better. We kind of hit the panic button too quick. When we get up on people, we get complacent, and we’ve gotta learn how to finish. We’ll work on it, get better.”
Still in it
Though Coal Ridge took the win in districts, it also proved to be their final game, as their 11-11 record did not prove to be enough to make the final cut of 32 teams in the postseason.
Aspen remained the only undefeated 3A team as their 59-33 W Saturday over Delta put them at 22-0, giving them the district title, the league title and hosting duties this weekend as the No. 3 team in the state.
The 11-11 Delta boys just barely made it into regionals, ranked 32nd and facing the top 3A team, 21-1 St. Mary’s.
After a seven-year drought in terms of the latter rounds of districts and everything beyond, MCHS boys are finally back in the regional part of the playoffs.
At 13-8, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them in a matchup against the 18-3 Colorado Academy Mustangs, the winner of which will move on to face either No. 13 Pagosa Springs (14-7) or No. 20 The Academy (16-6).
“We will just break down their film, try to find some weaknesses we can exploit,” coach Carlson said. “We’ll work to clean up some of the things we did wrong, go down this weekend and play as hard as we can and see who comes out on top.”
While this is the longest run MoCo boys have had since 2015, MCHS girls have been in the 3A playoffs at one level or another again and again in recent years, going as far as the state Final Four in 2018.
The current seniors on the Bulldog girls roster have had to contend with a competitive Delta squad that have kept them from being a regional host the past four years — excluding last year’s temporary 24-team bracket.
However, MoCo girls had a bit of second-hand satisfaction this season, as Grand Valley upset the Panthers 41-33 to gain the district championship. The win secured the 18-4 Cardinals the No. 4 seed and dropped 18-3 Delta to 10th in the playoff field. Grand Valley will host Buena Vista, while Delta plays Alamosa in a regional event hosted by The Academy.
Despite getting eliminated early from districts, Coal Ridge girls’ 12-6 season was enough to rank them 15th in the playoffs, facing No. 18 Resurrection Christian to start it. Elsewhere, 14-8 North Fork is seeded 24th, meeting ninth-seed Eaton in the first round.
At 14-8, MoCo girls have earned victories against three of the four other WSL teams who have made it this far, and coach Eric Hamilton is confident they can emerge as the winners this weekend, first facing 18-4 Colorado Springs Christian this Friday and, with a win, either No. 6 Pagosa (15-5) or No. 27 Valley (12-11) the next day.
“This is a huge opportunity for our team, and we need to get back together, work extremely hard this week and focus on finishing strong and reaching our biggest goals,” coach Hamilton said. “We are a very good team when we are all locked in and playing hard. I believe we can beat anyone at any time and now we have to go get it done.”
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