CARBONDALE - Saturday afternoon's Class 3A Regional Tournament title game swung in favor of Roaring Fork High School's boys basketball team early on. It swung the way of the Faith Christian Eagles the rest of the way.
Faith Christian scored 12 unanswered points in the first quarter to take the lead, then pounded the Rams on the offensive glass on their way to a 55-33 victory at the Roaring Fork High School gym.
"Everything that's plagued us this year came back and bit us in this last game of the season," Roaring Fork coach Larry Williams said. "Whether it was turnovers or foul trouble, you can't play that way against a team of that ability and be successful."
With the victory, Faith Christian (14-10), the four-time defending Class 3A state champions, will return to the Elite 8 in Fort Collins to play for a fifth title later this week. The Rams, who won the 3A Western Slope League and district tournament titles, finished the season 20-4.
"They're a good ballclub, and if we're going to lose this deep into the playoffs, it needs to be to them," said Roaring Fork senior Trae Moxley, who was limited to four points and four rebounds after early foul trouble put him on the bench much of the first half.
"Still, we should have played better," Moxley continued. "If we're gonna lose, we shouldn't lose by 22 points."
Roaring Fork was limited by Faith Christian in several ways, for sure. The Rams shot just 32.3 percent (11 for 34) from the field and were outrebounded by the Eagles 35-20. Many of those boards - thanks in part to the 6-foot-5 Moxley being on the bench with foul trouble in the first half - came on the offensive end, giving Faith Christian plenty of second- and third-chance opportunities to score underneath the basket.
"Granted, we helped ourselves by missing a lot of shots that you'd normally want to make," said Faith Christian coach Andrew Hasz in reference to the Eagles' putbacks off missed layups and short jumpers. "I guess we were kind of padding those offensive board stats. But I was proud of our guys, because its easy to get discouraged when you miss a lot of shots that normally go."
Regardless of those missed shots, Faith Christian still shot 50 percent (24 for 48) from the field, which helped the Eagles rally after a transition layup from Tanner Nieslanik gave the Rams a 6-2 lead with 4 minutes, 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Eagles immediately answered, as Spencer Bazz's layup at the end of the stanza capped a 12-0 run Faith Christian. Bazz finished with 17 points and Alex Albright added a game-high 18 points with seven rebounds, taking advantage of the Eagles' size advantage in the paint.
Roaring Fork showed signs of life at the beginning of the third quarter, as a 3-pointer from Nieslanik with 4:29 on the clock pulled the Rams within 31-21. Six unanswered points from the Eagles followed, however, and Faith Christian had built its lead to 46-26 with 6:02 left to play.
"Eve though this hurst right now, these guys have a lot to be proud of right now," Williams said of his team. "They have a league championship, a district championship and they made it to the Sweet 16. They have a lot to be proud of."