Moffat County hoops teams split with Coal Ridge on Senior Night
As Wesley Counts barreled toward the home team’s rim Thursday night in the Moffat County High School gym, the final buzzer sounded just before he went into his layup motion, and though the ball dropped through the net, referees fervently indicated the final shot of the night didn’t count.
Yet, Counts and his team barely cared as they lost their minds in celebration.
MCHS boys basketball held on to the very end in their last regular season game, coming out on top 69-68 against the Coal Ridge Titans to ensure the team’s first winning record within the 3A Western Slope League since 2015.
Meanwhile, it was a difficult climb back for MCHS girls, as a rough first half against Coal Ridge saw them fall 47-39 to finish 5-4 in the conference during Senior Night as MoCo hoopsters prep for the start of the postseason.
Back in black
Wearing their black away jerseys for the first time at home since December, it was already a different kind of energy for the boys varsity squad.
The lead-up to their game included a ceremony for seniors Landen Najera and Jerod Chacon. The two upperclassmen likewise joined John Jepkema — a former MCHS teacher and recipient of a world record for hiking the Grand Canyon — at center court to honor him as Bulldog basketball’s No. 1 fan.
With the sentiment wrapped up, a well-paced first quarter saw the Dogs and the Titans staying close at 17-15 in Coal Ridge’s favor.
After getting their outside shooting warmed up quickly, the Titans played more in the paint from there, while MoCo guys’ frequent fastbreaks kept sending them to the free throw line as Coal Ridge piled up the fouls.
A 38-30 Titan lead moving along to halftime saw the action take a lengthy break for more Senior Night festivities for the MCHS band program’s Bailey Louthan and Eliana Mack and the girls swim team for both Mack and Meeker’s Jeni Kincher.
The spirit team also honored seniors AJ Calara, Fiona Connor and Sara Beason, the latter of whom was surprised by her father Rodney in the Bulldog mascot outfit.
As the boys in black headed back to the floor, the Senior Night magic started to show, as an eight-point run by Najera and Chacon took the Titans by surprise.
Najera and Jordan Carlson kept hitting jumpers all over the place, and Myles Simpson swished a needed three-points, while Chacon and Wesley Counts dropped both field goals, plus the and-one coming from Coal Ridge fouls that let the Dogs gain a quick lead in the third quarter.
Titans retook the advantage by the end of the period, but at 57-56, they had no room for error.
With their visitors rattled, MoCo boys kept up the defensive pressure and stayed true at the line to keep Coal Ridge at bay and sneak up for the win.
While it was only fitting that Najera as a senior put up the last Bulldog points of the game in a 17-point evening, Counts the junior led in scoring with 25, complete with a pair of triples and 11 for 11 on free throws.
Carlson added 10 points, Chacon five, Ryan Peck and Hector Salazar four each, Simpson three and Chris Maneotis one.
Head coach Steve Maneotis said the win was a display of how the group can continue to surprise even themselves.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty about who we are, and tonight they found out just how good they are,” he said. “I’m just proud of everybody’s effort through and through. Everybody came in and contributed, top to bottom.”
As the student section and the rest of the bleachers emptied out after the boys’ win, girls varsity players Reese Weber and Halle Hamilton opted to take on cleaning up the stands, partly to contemplate a game that didn’t go as they expected.
Following their own Senior Night ceremony for Makayla Martinez, Stephenie Swindler, and Jenna Timmer, girls hoops came out slowly against the Titans with a 14-9 deficit in the opening quarter.
And, what started as the Lady Dogs working to get resettled after a 50-47 weekend road loss against Roaring Fork only got more sporadic for the home squad, with Coal Ridge girls’ interior defense rushing the MoCo shooting effort as Titans led 25-15 at halftime.
“I think part of it was we just needed to get all our jitters out but also work better as a team,” Weber said. “Roaring Fork was a really tough loss for us, but we came into this one not really expecting them to be that good.”
The second half didn’t start much better as Titan Taylor Wiescamp began taking over in the post, yet four minutes into the third quarter marked a second wind as suddenly the Bulldog output started clicking.
Hamilton and Weber each hit a three-pointer, and Emaleigh Papierski and Cayden King were having better luck closer to the rim.
Still, the Titans were well in front at 33-26, and even a 15-14 MoCo fourth period — complete with Hamilton and Papierski attacking the hoop and King four for four in foul shots — couldn’t keep the Lady Dogs from sustaining the loss.
With shooting suffering from every spot on the floor, free throws may have been the final nail in the coffin for the night at nine for 24 for the home group.
Hamilton led in scoring with 12 points, Papierski 10, King eight, Swindler five, Weber three and Timmer one.
A night where the team was out of sync was by no means an indication of their ability.
“We’ve got to pull it together as a team and help each other,” Hamilton said. “It’s not like we don’t have the teamwork to do it; it’s just a matter of putting it together.”
The Thursday night games were crucial for all involved.
While the Coal Ridge boys might have had a shot at reclaiming the conference title from Gunnison with a Titan win and a Cowboy loss against Delta — no such luck in either — MoCo boys absolutely needed a victory to stay in the top four standings of the WSL.
Despite their 8-11 overall record, Bulldogs’ defeats of No. 1 Gunnison and the runner-up Titans have established them as a team not to be underestimated, finishing the regular schedule at 6-3 in the league, ranked just behind Grand Valley in fourth place.
Alternately, 12-7 MCHS girls’ shaky stretch in recent weeks have seen them tumble down the Western Slope rankings, and the loss to Coal Ridge put them at sixth in the count with both teams 5-4, the Titans placing fifth to finish the season.
As the WSL district tournament starts to determine who will progress in the postseason, Lady Dogs are likely to be on the road to fight their way into the semifinals, while Moffat County boys should have hosting duties for the early round.
Maneotis said the real work begins at this stage as the team starts to “string together” everything they need to move to the next level.
“Now the record is 0-0, and it’s tournament time,” he said.
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