Coal Ridge fights back from two games down to beat Basalt |

Coal Ridge fights back from two games down to beat Basalt

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan Special to the Post Independent

BASALT, Colorado – Regardless of the outcome, Coal Ridge head coach Scott Black maintained that he would have been pleased with his team’s effort Tuesday in Basalt.

“This was a whole lot of fun,” he added.

First-year Longhorns head coach Mike Whittlef did not appear to share that sentiment. Not after his squad jumped out to a two-game lead only to be pushed to five games for the second time in six days. Not after Basalt squandered two match points in a dramatic deciding game en route to a tough 25-20, 25-20, 17-25, 17-25, 14-16 loss.

“The girls played hard. There’s no doubt,” Whittlef said afterward. “They just let up a little. The other team played harder. We needed to push back.”

The Longhorns appeared to be shaken after a Game 4 loss. They looked dazed, many staring blankly at the court with hands on their hips. On the opposite side of the gym, the rejuvenated Titans were leading chants with their cheering section.

Coal Ridge jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the final game, showcasing some assertiveness at the net that had been lacking early in the night.

Basalt was in desperate need of a spark.

Abby Norton provided one. The junior produced two well-placed kills, sandwiched between a block, to spark a 5-0 run that helped the Longhorns erase the deficit and take a 9-8 lead.

After they squared the game, the Titans (5-5) committed three consecutive errors, prompting a timeout from Black.

After Basalt pushed his team to the brink at 14-12, the coach halted play once more.

“I just set up an offensive play,” Black said. “I was just trying to get a sideout so we could serve. We’re much better when we’re serving. I think it worked, too.”

Zoe Reece squared the match with back-to-back kills. Later, after a Basalt timeout, Norton spotted a gaping hole in the Titans defense and rushed a crossing shot, pushing it long and out of play. Reece provided the final point in this seesaw battle between 3A Western Slope foes, drilling a ball between two blockers to seal the 16-14 victory and match win.

“We were on a bad rotation there at the end, so I was a little concerned,” Black said. “We’re very happy. … We knew from the beginning of the match that this was going to be huge.”

The Longhorns (5-4) appeared to have the upper hand early. They controlled play against a sloppy Titans squad, jumping out to a 20-12 advantage in a first game in which they were never seriously tested.

That changed in Game 2, as Coal Ridge scored eight of the first 10 points.

Slowly but surely, Basalt climbed back into contention, eventually reeling off nine straight points – six on Titans mistakes – to take a 20-18 lead.

After Coal Ridge pulled to within one, the Longhorns scored four straight points to seize control of the game.

The Titans did not go quietly, however. They jumped out to an early lead in Game 3, eventually building a nine-point cushion. They sealed the win when a Longhorns player’s dig flew well wide of the court.

Coal Ridge utilized a 9-0 spurt to take a 12-6 lead in Game 4. Six points was as close as a visibly flustered Basalt would get for the rest of the game.

“We changed the lineup and took one of the middles out [in Games 3 and 4],” Black said. “It cut out some of the errors.”

While the Titans had the momentum, they were pushed to the brink before finally putting away the Longhorns in Game 5.

“They came back in that last game and wanted to win. … The girls didn’t look too tired. They stayed in there,” Whittlef said. “Things can’t always go our way.”

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