GYPSUM, Colorado - Eagle Valley girls basketball has opened 4A Slope play the last two seasons with 1-4 and 0-5 records, so 2-0 to begin 2012-13 would be much better.
The Devils made it so with a fourth-quarter comeback to nip Rifle, 40-39, Saturday afternoon on the heels of a 50-48 victory Friday night in Glenwood Springs.
"Absolutely amazing. They're just such hard workers," Devils coach Sam Bartlett said. "I can't say enough about them. Every single person stepped up in that game. They all played a role. ... We played a lot of close games this summer, and we were on the losing end of a lot of games. I told them they were going to get over the hump."
The Bears led 31-28 with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game when Eagle Valley's Megan Asmussen hit a huge 3 to tie it. Madeline Lounsberry stopped Rifle's next possession with a steal and Lauren Thorpe raced down the court for a layup and the lead.
Lounsberry sank two free throws for a 35-31 advantage. She ended up with a team-high 14 points.
Rifle's Joey Kuheim and Lounsberry traded buckets and the Devils' nudged their lead up to 38-36 with 11.6 seconds to go. Rifle hoped to inbound the ball, but the Devils' Mariel Gutierrez read the play all the way, stealing the pass and heading right to the basket for two.
That four-point lead ended up being critical, as Rifle's Chante Church, who led all scorers with 18, hit a 3 at the buzzer.
"All I wanted to do was take the ball away from them," Gutierrez said. "She saw the player on the other side of the court. She turned and I saw it."
With the win, the Devils are 5-2, while the Bears fell to 3-3 (and 1-1 in the 4A Slope).
"I told them that we played our game in the second half defensively and on the boards, which I didn't feel we did in the first half," Rifle coach Rick Schmitz said. "It got us back in the game. It gave us a chance to win at the end. A key point in the second half was we were up three and they got a stop and they scored. That seemed to give them some momentum. We had our chances."
Eagle Valley boys basketball was one of the preseason contenders in the 4A Slope and Saturday's 61-34 rout of Rifle did nothing to dispel that status.
The Devils started with a 10-0 run and led 35-6 at the half on their way to a 2-0 start in the Slope.
"The guys played well tonight. I hope they had fun," first-year coach Jim Bair said. "Rifle's a good basketball team, big physical kids. They always put good athletes on the court."
And while Bair has clearly read the coach cliche handbook, the Devils looked very sharp Saturday with familiar faces and new ones.
Center Travis Edgar is new to Eagle Valley basketball, but seems a perfect fit. His early putback got the Devils going. Familiar faces Sam Lounsberry and Ayren Hart added scores and point-guard Juan Baca drilled a 3, and the Devils were off to the races.
"It was a big change, but everyone bought in and committed," said Hart, who led the Devils with 19 in limited playing time.
With Eagle Valley up comfortably, Bair used his bench early and often, while Rifle was left to figure out what happened.
"We were unbelievably bad. I think Eagle had a lot to do with that. They're really good," Rifle coach Roger Walters said. "At the same time, our level of focus, our level of execution, was so poor. I didn't have them prepared. It is early, so hopefully we can get them prepared a little bit better."