Moffat County boys basketball weathers back-and-forth action for win over Denver Christian
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — You might as well have temporarily dubbed Moffat County High School Bulldogs the Lightning in their Thursday night game.
Because, to paraphrase the Pixar movie “Cars,” Lightning always finishes in front of Thunder.
With all apologies to Chick Hicks…
MCHS boys basketball kept it close as could be in the opening round of the Glenwood Springs Demon Invitational, ultimately moving on to the tournament’s semifinals with a 63-62 victory against Denver Christian.
Even with Connor Murphy still out of commission, the Dogs’ smaller bench was on its game from the start, and apart from a pair of foul shots by the Thunder’s Jeff Amidon that began the match, MoCo led the full first period.
Cale Scranton hit the night’s first outside bucket and Jerod Chacon doubled down with two more 3’s — of three total he’d have during the game — for the 15-11 advantage going into the second quarter.
Denver Christian kept the energy going back and forth throughout the remainder of the half, picking up momentum with an eight-point run to gain a slim lead just before they went into the locker room. However, Wesley Counts had the last laugh as he took advantage of a slow setup on an inbound pass beneath the Bulldog basket by bouncing the ball lightly off the back of an opponent, grabbing the loose rock and sinking it into the net right at the buzzer.
The second half began almost exactly the same as the first as Amidon put in two more free throws to open the third quarter and push the Thunder’s advantage to 30-27. Still, they never were up by more than four points as the Dogs kept barking back again and again.
A triple by Henry VanDenBerg put DC up by one at 45-44, but no sooner did the Thunder have the ball back than Ryan Peck shut down another outside shot with a much-needed block to end the period.
Inside work by Landen Najera and Colby Beaver began the fourth quarter where the score evened out repeatedly: 48-48, 50-50, 52-52, 54-54, 58-58.
Denver looked like they could go the distance as free throws by Ethan Leibert put them ahead 62-58, yet no one was more shocked than Najera when he took a chance on a perimeter shot and drained it to get the Dogs within one at 62-61.
“I didn’t shoot good all game, but when I put that up, I had a good feeling,” Najera said. “My home is down low, getting boards, so I was a little anxious. We came out a little slow, but we ended strong. It was a great team effort.”
A timeout with 48 seconds left allowed both squads to strategize, and straight out of the huddle, MoCo kept after the ball.
History repeated itself all over again with a baseline inbound, though with less trickery than Counts’ earlier ploy.
Scranton heaved it to Chacon at half-court, who worked it to Connor Etzler, who sent it to Najera, who got it to Beaver right beneath the rim for the clutch game-winning shot with 13 seconds to go.
“We were just trying to get a stop and get that bucket,” Beaver said, adding there was no time to second-guess himself with his team trusting him.
The Thunder had one more chance at a literal long shot, but after nailing four three-pointers in the night, Eu Asefaw’s luck ran out for a fifth.
With 10 total Thunder three-pointers compared to the Bulldogs’ eight, Moffat County coach Eric Hamilton couldn’t deny Denver Christian’s shooting capabilities, though he was thrilled his athletes outlasted their latest foe.
“We need wins like that. When it goes our way like that, it’s awesome. They just hung in there and played,” he said.
Najera led scoring with 13 points, followed closely by Chacon with 12, Scranton and Counts nine each, Peck seven, Beaver six, Etzler four, and Torin Reed three.
MCHS boys are 2-2 with the win and progress to the tourney’s championship semis against Faith Christian at 8 p.m. Friday. The Eagles made it as far as the 3A state semis during the 2017-18 season and moved to 2-1 for this year with a 58-44 W Thursday against host Glenwood, who will face Denver Christian in the consolation round.