Moffat County hoops teams both move on to district semifinals for first time in 7 years
For the Craig Press
It’s been a good long while since Moffat County High School varsity basketball teams have gone deep into the playoffs as a pair, but that cold streak came to an end this week.
Dual victories against Basalt in the quarterfinal rounds of the district tournament Tuesday night guaranteed at least two more games for both the boys and girls Bulldog hoops teams.
This marks the first time each of the teams have qualified for this stage of the postseason since 2015, when both groups won the district event.
Back in business
While girls have been in and out of districts since then in recent years while still regularly achieving playoff status — excluding last year’s condensed postseason that eliminated the district rounds entirely — Bulldog boys have struggled to go beyond the quarterfinal stage.
That past burden showed few signs of affecting the boys’ performance on the home floor however, as they overtook the Longhorns 59-50. A week after edging past Basalt 55-48 to end the regular season, the Dogs were ready to go for the quick rematch that would extend their schedule.
An 11-9 first quarter in MoCo’s favor wasn’t exactly an auspicious lead, but things got better from there.
“I think there for a little bit we got complacent and came out with a little too much energy,” head coach Mark Carlson said. “That hurt us at the beginning, just a little too excited.”
A 12-point run in the second period saw the Bulldogs tapping into the kind of energy they’ve shown in their best moments this season, leading to a 30-25 lead at halftime.
Senior Myles Simpson could do no wrong in a monster scoring spree with 19 points in the first half alone, 31 in all by the end of the night as he sunk shots from all over the floor, including five three-pointers.
However, coach Carlson said it was a two-way effort that kept the Dogs moving.
“Myles was the man tonight; he carried us for sure,” Carlson said. “Cort Murphy gave us a heck of a game tonight, had some great minutes, especially on the defensive end. Johnny Lopez came off the bench and really frustrated their point guard, who’s their leading scorer. That got us going in the second half.”
Settling old scores
While boys haven’t been to the semis since 2015, MCHS girls have also missed that part of the postseason the last couple years, though their consistent winning records have allowed them to make it to the regional round of playoffs regardless.
After handling Basalt 59-39 a week previously, the Bulldogs girls were on their toes against the Longhorns this time, with a shooting struggle that plagued them through the first half.
“We were pretty flat in the first half; didn’t shoot the ball well, didn’t score the ball. Basalt played really well making their perimeter shots,” said head coach Eric Hamilton.
He added that Basalt junior Ava Lane was particularly troublesome, but MoCo defense was nonetheless on point, allowing them to get on track with their marksmanship and maintain a 19-11 lead at the break.
With teammates Emma Tucker, Lizzy LeWarne, and Quincy Lowe all hitting outside shots to keep the lead going, senior Halle Hamilton found her groove again in the second half with a pair of triples while also going six for six from the free throw line as part of her 16-point night.
LeWarne added nine points but also led in rebounds, with 15 for the evening.
The next big step
Both Moffat County basketball teams are seeded third in the district tourney and will be paired with the No. 2 teams in each bracket in games Friday afternoon at Central High School in Grand Junction.
The 14-6 Bulldog girls will face off with Grand Valley, who achieved an 87-32 rout of Gunnison Tuesday night to get to the next round. The 3A Western Slope League champion Delta defeated Roaring Fork 65-11 and will play North Fork in the semis after the fifth-seeded Miners held off Coal Ridge 46-42.
Though coach Hamilton and players are focused on beating the Cardinals for a second time this season, it’s hard to deny they want another shot at Delta, who will likely be in the final game.
“We really want to move on to that championship because we haven’t been there in a long time,” Hamilton said. “We gotta beat Grand Valley to get there, and they’ve got three girls who can all shoot really lights out.”
In the boys district bracket, league champs Aspen pushed past Grand Valley 69-38 to move to 20-0 and will face Coal Ridge at the next round after the Titans narrowly beat Gunnison 51-48.
As for the Bulldogs, their semifinal foe will be Delta, who started districts with a 72-44 blowout against Roaring Fork.
The return to the district semis was a specific goal for Carlson as he took on the head coach job this season.
“I’m super-excited for these kids. I told them at the beginning of the season I was gonna get them here and get them back to districts,” he said. “They did it, and I’m incredibly proud of them.”
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The end of another school year at Moffat County High School means it’s that time again to highlight the best senior student-athletes as part of the Lewis “Dude” Dent Memorial Awards Ceremony.