Coal Ridge boys give top seed Rams a scare
CARBONDALE, Colorado – The underdog Coal Ridge High School boys had No. 1 Roaring Fork off balance for much of the night Thursday in the 3A Western Slope District quarterfinals.
In the end, though, the Rams’ disciplined play and perfect 6-for-6 free-throw shooting down the stretch by senior Dakotah Grett secured the 58-51 win.
Roaring Fork (18-3) was playing for one of the Western Slope’s four berths in the state playoffs next week, despite winning the outright WSL regular season title.
The Rams move on to the district tournament semifinals this afternoon at Palisade High School against Basalt. The winner will play for the district championship on Saturday, and a chance to play host for the regionals.
“We hung with them, but we could never quite get over the hump,” Coal Ridge coach Paul Harvey said. “Our kids never quit. This is one of the best groups I’ve ever coached.”
After Roaring Fork opened an 11-5 lead in the first quarter, the eighth-seeded Titans (4-16) fought back to take as much as a three-point lead at one point in the second period behind tough defense.
Rams junior Tanner Nieslanik hit a 3-pointer just as the buzzer was about to sound for halftime, and was fouled. Nieslanik connected on the foul shot to give Roaring Fork the one point lead, 25-24, at the half.
In fact, it was Nieslanik who provided the spark whenever the Rams looked to be rattled.
“That’s what I try to do, and that’s kind of my role on the team,” Nieslanik said. “When we get in a tight one like that, we just need to move the ball around and execute. That way we’re always prepared to win games at the end.”
Which is exactly what Roaring Fork had to find a way to do.
Coal Ridge tied the game at 33-all with 4:35 to play in the third, but the Rams went on to build a nine-point lead early in the fourth when Grett found big man Trae Moxley underneath to make it 46-37.
Coal Ridge battled back to within three points midway through the fourth. But again the Rams kept finding a way to maintain a razor-thin lead down the stretch before the Titans were forced to foul.
With Roaring Fork leading 52-48 at one minute, 18 seconds left to play, the Titans put Grett on the foul line three straight times. And three straight times he hit both shots.
“It’s tournament time, so anything can happen and we have to be prepared to fight every game,” Rams coach Larry Williams said. “We came out a little flat tonight, and had way too many turnovers.”
The Rams threw the ball away 21 times during the game.
“We definitely have to clean it up a bit, and hopefully we got that out of our system,” Williams said. “We did just enough good things at the end to win this one.”
Roaring Fork’s Moxley and Coal Ridge’s Alec Herrera both had 22 points to lead all scorers. Grett had 12 and Nieslanik added 11 for the Rams, and Andy Bowles contributed 14 for the Titans.
Harvey credited the team leadership of his two seniors, Alex Sanchez and Dakotah Snode.
“They never had their heads low, and always stayed positive,” Harvey said.
“Roaring Fork is an incredible team,” he added. “Hats off to coach Williams and his team, I hope they go far and represent our league and the Western Slope.”
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