RIFLE, Colorado - Another strong defensive effort by the Rifle High School boys basketball team gave the Bears a big lead early on Saturday night. A big comeback by Eagle Valley gave the Devils a chance.
Eagle Valley's comeback attempt wasn't big enough, though. Behind a team-high 15 points from Tanner Rust and a clutch performance from the Bears down the stretch, Rifle pushed its win streak to six with a 53-43 Class 3A Western Slope League victory.
"No doubt, we're playing well right now," Rifle coach Roger Walters said. "It's awfully nice to see us improve on a weekly basis."
The Bears (9-8 overall, 7-6 4A WSL) haven't lost a game in nearly a month, when their 57-50 loss at home to Delta left them with a 1-6 league record. On Saturday, the Bears went up early and appeared to be in the proverbial driver's seat with a 16-0 lead after one quarter.
Eagle Valley (13-4, 9-3), however, got right back in the game and cut the lead to 43-38 with 1 minute, 20 seconds left to play. But the Bears put the game away on foul shots, hitting on 22-of-30 attempts in the second half.
"We dug ourselves in too big of a hole," Eagle Valley coach Jim Bair said. "We're used to playing from behind, but you won't be able to come back against a Rifle team that's playing their best basketball of the season."
Tanner Quick added 11 points for Rifle and Trent Brown chipped in eight points and seven rebounds - with all of his points coming on his 8-for-10 performance from the foul line in the second half. Samuel Lounsberry had a game-high 22 points and five 3-pointers to pace the Devils.
Eagle Valley, which finished 0-for-8 shooting in the first quarter, pulled to within 20-11 headed into halftime on a pair of foul shots from Ryan Werner. Rifle used an 8-0 run at the beginning of the third to keep a distance at 28-11 with 6:45 left in the stanza, but the Devils pulled within 35-29 on a 3 from Juan Baca with 4:50 left in the fourth.
Rifle, which pulled away from Summit on foul shots in the Bears' 44-26 win Friday night, did the same thing against the Devils. After Eagle Valley closed the gap to five, the Bears hit 9-of-10 foul shots in the next 35 seconds to go up 53-40, essentially sealing the game.
"We kind of punched them in the mouth a little bit at the start," Rust said. "We're definitely being more patient down the stretch instead of rushing things. It's definitely paying off."
Chante Church had a game-high 19 points - hitting 12-of-16 attempts from the foul line - to lead the Rifle girls to a 40-30 victory over Eagle Valley.
Church and Carsyn Copeland each had eight rebounds and Joey Kuheim chipped in five points and eight boards for the Bears (11-6 overall, 9-3 league), who vaulted the Devils (11-6, 8-4) for second place in the league standings.
"That was the best second half of defense we've played all year," said Rifle coach Rick Schmitz, who credited the play of Annie Schmit and Brenda Reyes off the bench for the Bears' big defensive effort. "We walked to each other, we blocked out and we kept up our intensity."
Mariel Gutierrez had 11 points and Madeline Lounsberry chipped in eight for Eagle Valley, which tied the game at 24-all on Gutierrez's jumper in the first part of the third quarter. Church went to work from there, scoring six points in a 10-0 Rifle run that gave the Bears a 34-24 lead.
"They took it to us that last time we played them," said Church, referring to the Devils' 40-39 win on Dec. 15. "We knew we had to step up this time and be stronger throughout the game."