CARBONDALE, Colorado - A back-and-forth game between a pair of evenly matched 3A Western Slope League teams was anyone's to win in the end.
But clutch free-throw shooting and tough physical play underneath, plus an inadvertent whistle call at the end of the game, keyed host Roaring Fork to the 59-57 victory over Coal Ridge in high school girls basketball action Tuesday night in Carbondale.
"This was a big win for us," Roaring Fork coach Kirk Cheney said. "Coal Ridge is tough, and they know how to hustle out there.
"If we hope to come out of the league and advance, we need to have more games like this and we have to play like we did tonight," Cheney said.
Roaring Fork (6-5 overall) improved to 6-2 against WSL teams, and keeps pace with Olathe, Moffat County and Grand Valley in the league race.
Coal Ridge dropped to 5-6 overall and 4-4 in the league with the loss.
"Our press worked, but we missed too many fast-break opportunities," Coal Ridge coach Damon Martinez said. "You can't give Roaring Fork those kinds of chances and expect to come away with a win."
The teams were tied 32-all at halftime, after Titans' junior Amanda Wenzel knocked home a three pointer with 10 seconds on the clock.
A buzzer-beater from beyond the arc at the end of the third quarter by junior Paige Ryan put Coal Ridge up 50-43.
But the Rams battled back, thanks to gutsy play underneath by Megan Gianinetti and Maddie Nieslanik, who scored 13 and 16 points, respectively, on the night.
With the game tied at 55-55 with under a minute to play, Gianinetti layed it in off a pass from twin sister Hattie Gianinetti to give the Rams the 2-point advantage.
Ryan pulled the Titans even again on a lay-up, and was fouled by Roaring Fork's Toni Gross with 35 seconds showing on the clock. But Ryan failed to convert from the line, leaving the door open for the Rams.
Roaring Fork called a timeout after getting trapped on the in-bounds play by the Titans' pressure defense. Then, a miss by Nieslanik underneath on the ensuing play was rebounded by Megan Gianinetti, who was fouled on the shot. She converted one of two from the line to give Roaring Fork the edge.
Coal Ridge rebounded the missed second free throw, but an inadvertent whistle from an official halted play with just over 4 seconds on the clock. Under the rules, it goes as a jump ball, and with the possession arrow pointing the Rams' way, the ball went back to Roaring Fork.
Gross was fouled after the in-bounds pass and added another free throw for the final margin.
Roaring Fork hit 19 of 22 free throws on the night, while Coal Ridge was just seven of 14.
"We work hard on free throws in practice," Nieslanik said. "We knew we just needed to keep our heads in the end, and not get down on ourselves."
Wenzel led the Titans with 17 points, followed by Cassidy Blackard with 14 and Ryan with 11.
In the nightcap, the league-leading Roaring Fork boys opened a 20-point lead over Coal Ridge after 16 minutes of play and never looked back, en route to a 57-35 win.
"Our guard play was the best we've had all year," Rams coach Larry Williams said. "We also played good pressure defense, and we took much better care of the basketball tonight."
The Rams remain atop the 3A WSL standings at 7-0 (8-2 overall) with the win, heading into a road game at Cedaredge this Friday.
"Every game is a challenge when you're sitting on top," Williams said. "It can get shaky up there at the top of the ladder unless you have a solid base. Tonight, our kids played like I've been expecting them to play."
The Rams were paced by senior Israel Leyva, who scored 16 points. Senior Dakotah Grett added 12, and sophomore Ben Carpenter chipped in 10 points for the victors.
Coal Ridge (1-10, 1-7) was led by junior Andy Bowles with 11 points.