RIFLE, Colorado - A solid defensive effort for the Rifle High School boys basketball team carried the Bears against the Steamboat Springs Sailors for the entire game Saturday night.
Rifle shut out Steamboat in the first quarter, then carried that defensive intensity throughout the game in a 39-29 Class 4A Western Slope League victory.
"A good offense comes from a good defense," said junior post player Tanner Quick, who finished with seven points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots for the Bears. "That's our mentality.
"They're a good team," Quick continued. "And we held them to zero in the first quarter? That's good!"
Rifle (6-8 overall, 4-6 Class 4A WSL) outscored Steamboat (8-7, 4-6) 12-0 in the first eight minutes, forcing more turnovers (seven) then the Sailors had shots from the field (four). And the Bears never relented, taking a 15-6 halftime lead before pulling away on foul shots in the second half.
"The kids made some great choices in terms of when to throw it inside, kicked it back out at the right time and took some really good shots," Rifle coach Roger Walters said. "But when we didn't hit them, we hit the offensive glass and had two of three putbacks out of that start we had.
"It set the tone," the coach continued. "The kids got more confident every quarter. It's just nice to see them be rewarded."
The Bears, who have won three in a row after a 1-6 start in league play, got 11 points from Clinton Farr, with Jake Statler and Trent Brown each adding eight points. Defensively, however, Rifle limited Steamboat to just 9-of-34 shooting from the field (2 of 13 in the first half), with the Sailors only first-half points coming on a pair of 3-pointers from Zach Dunklin.
Dunklin finished with a game-high 14 points with four 3s, and his trey with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the third quarter gave the Sailors a 19-17 lead. But Statler answered right back with a 3-pointer of his own to give the lead back to Rifle, and it sparked a 10-0 run that, after a steal and layup from Steamboat's Carter Kounovsky, left the Bears with a 27-21 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
And Rifle took advantage of Steamboat's foul trouble in the final stanza. The Bears hit 9-of-18 attempts from the free throw line, which was more than enough to keep their distance from the Sailors.
"I'm so happy for these kids," Walters said. "The kids are making a lot of good choices on both ends of the floor. We're eliminating a lot of the silly mistakes at both ends. And when you gain possession at both ends like that, it's gigantic for us."
Joey Kuheim finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds, and Rifle clamped down on defense in the third quarter on its way to a 44-35 Class 3A Western Slope League victory over Steamboat.
Chante Church added a game-high 12 points and Jasmine Figueira chipped in seven for the Bears (9-5, 7-3 league), who won their second consecutive game after losing back-to-back games to league leading Delta.
"I like where we're at right now," Rifle coach Rick Schmitz said. "You can always improve. There's always areas you feel you can get better at. But I feel in the last two weeks we've made a lot of strides from where we were in mid-January."
Alice Holmquist had 10 points to pace Steamboat, which pulled within 24-23 on a 3-pointer from Holmquist just as the third quarter began. But the Sailors didn't score again in the quarter, as Rifle responded with a 10-0 run and never looked back.
"When we play great defense, it wears them down," Kuheim said. "Once we play good defense, our offense always follows."