RIFLE, Colorado - Once the Rifle High School girls basketball team found their rhythm, it was lights out for the visiting Palisade Bulldogs on Tuesday night.
A lackluster first half found the Lady Bears with a slim three-point lead at halftime, 18-15. But the host team went on an 18-4 run in the third period en route to a 47-30 win in the 4A Western Slope League race.
"We finally started playing our game, and kept up the pressure on defense," Rifle junior Chante Church said. "When we play good defense, our offense will come to us."
Rifle opened a 36-19 lead by the end of the third quarter and stayed even with the Bulldogs to come away with a key league victory. The Bears improved to 7-3 overall and 5-1 in league play.
"When you rebound better and start defending better, it's amazing how you start to shoot better," Rifle coach Rick Schmitz said. "Palisade started getting some offensive rebounds on us, but we adjusted with our match-ups to create some more opportunities."
Church led all scorers with 20 points, while Bears teammate Joey Kuheim had 15 and fellow senior Jasmine Figueira finished with 10. Figueira and Kuheim each pulled down eight rebounds, and the Bears ended up out-rebounding Palisade as a team, 26-12.
Palisade junior Cruz Maestas led the Bulldogs with 18 points. Palisade dropped to 4-6 on the season and 3-2 in league play.
Next up for Rifle will be a big test against league-leading Delta at home on Friday.
"If we come out and play our game, and play the defense we know how to play, we'll be OK," Church said.
Sloppy play plagued both the Rifle and Palisade boys in the nightcap Tuesday, though the Bears found themselves in a position to find a way to win at the end.
But fouls down the stretch and an inability to take care of the ball by the young Rifle team allowed the visiting Bulldogs to hang on for the 42-38 win.
With the exception of a 6-6 tie in the opening quarter, Palisade led from the start, including a 19-13 advantage at the intermission. Rifle pulled within four at the end of the third quarter, and were only trailing by two with a minute and 43 seconds to play in the game after junior Trent Brown hit a jumper from the paint.
Brown led all scorers with 17 points, while junior Tanner Rust added nine for the Bears. The Bulldogs were paced by junior Skyler Miller and senior Jesus Aguirre with nine and eight points respectively.
Rifle dropped to 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the league, while Palisade moved to 7-3 and 5-0 to stay atop the 4A WSL standings.