GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado - The ball bounced the way of Roaring Fork High School's boys basketball team on Saturday - right before it bounced the way of the Moffat County Bulldogs.
Because it bounced the way of the Rams first, however, Roaring Fork is a district tournament champion. Again.
A game-tying, 3-point field goal with 13 seconds remaining by Moffat County's Tyler Davis went behind the backboard and, thus, out of bounds before it fell through the hoop. As a result, the Rams were able to run out the clock and preserve a 59-54 victory in the Class 3A Western Slope League District Tournament title game at Palisade High School.
"We didn't think it hit that brace [behind the backboard]," Moffat County coach Eric Hamilton said. "But that's a judgment call, and as soon as it hits that brace, it's out of bounds. But we didn't agree with the call."
Roaring Fork coach Larry Williams had a much different take: "Thank God the referee saw that!"
The victory gave Roaring Fork (19-3 overall), which has been to the tournament title game three consecutive years now, its second district championship in that span and first since 2011. It also gave the Rams a first-round home game in the 3A state tournament, and their opponent, as well as the rest of the 48-team field, will be announced today. The top four 3A WSL finishers will play in the state tournament.
Trae Moxley scored a team-high 16 points and Dakotah Grett added 11 for Roaring Fork, which watched the Bulldogs (18-4) claw their way back into the game after the Rams took an early 13-4 first-quarter lead. Roaring Fork pushed its lead to 43-34 with 2 minutes, 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter, but had to keep its composure down the stretch to hold off Moffat County's comeback bid.
"We know that we can always do better, but we know that every team we play from here on out is going to be good," Grett said. "So it's going to be the little things that make a difference. For us, being able to keep our heads straight really made the difference."
That came in handy in the final 20 seconds.
Davis knocked down a 3-pointer - his fourth of the game in a 17-point performance - with 19.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to pull the Bulldogs to within 56-54. Roaring Fork senior guard Israel Leyva was fouled on the Rams' ensuing possession, and he hit 1-of-2 double-bonus foul shots to up his team's lead to three.
The Bulldogs streaked down the court, and Davis took a 3-point shot from the left side of the key. It bounced 10 feet in the air and through the net with 13 seconds left, setting the fans from Craig into a frenzy. But the referee quickly quieted those cheers, waiving the basket off after it had touched the backboard brace.
"It bounced up and went in, but then I heard the whistle blow," Grett said. "It was still a great shot, though."
Roaring Fork took advantage. Grett was immediately fouled on the inbound pass and hit two foul shots, giving the Rams a five-point lead. At that point, Roaring Fork, which had only committed four fouls, committed two immediately to run the clock down to 7.8 seconds.
The Bulldogs were left with a bad look at a 3-point shot from Taft Cleverly, and time ran out to start Roaring Fork's celebration.
"From the beginning, we've had three goals," Williams said. "A league championship was one. A district title was another one. Now, we have to focus on another goal."