Roaring Fork sneaks past Weld Central | PostIndependent.com

Roaring Fork sneaks past Weld Central

Jeff Caspersen
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jim Ryan Special to the Post IndependentRoaring Fork's Dalton Handy puts up a runner in Saturday's win over Weld Central.
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CARBONDALE, Colorado – One by one, they ascended the ladder, scissors in hand, to claim a souvenir they’ll forever cherish.

“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right there,” said Roaring Fork High School junior Sam Carpenter, proudly holding up a piece of basketball net he had just chopped off of one of the baskets at his home gymnasium.

Carpenter and the Rams earned their souvenirs – and a trip to next weekend’s 3A boys state basketball tournament in Fort Collins – with an emotional 82-72 win over Weld Central in the Sweet 16 round of the playoffs on Saturday.

And they did it in what’s becoming signature Roaring Fork style, needing overtime to finish off sharp-shooting J.J. Sirios and the Rebels.

It was the Rams’ seventh overtime affair of the season. After dropping their first three overtime games, they’ve now gutted out wins in each of the last four that have gone into extra time.

“What else would you expect except for an overtime game from us?” Roaring Fork coach Larry Williams said with a relieved smile. “They came to play today. They came to play.”

After a couple of down seasons, Williams has his Rams in the round of eight for the first time since 2007-08. That season, Matthias Weissl and Torrey Udall led Roaring Fork to the state tournament in Roger Walters’ final season as head coach at the Carbondale school.

“I’m so happy for them,” said Williams, whose team takes a 17-7 record into Fort Collins. “They’ve worked so hard for this. They’ve hit some road bumps, but I think it’s made us stronger. I couldn’t be prouder of the way they came out and played today. I love each and every one of them.”

Roaring Fork, seeded seventh in the 32-team bracket, certainly has traveled a bumpy road to advance to Colorado State University’s Moby Arena, site of the Thursday-Saturday state tournament. There, the Rams will open up against No. 15 Jefferson Academy, which upset second-seeded – and previously unbeaten – Colorado Springs Christian, 56-50, in four overtimes on Saturday.

After a 65-61 win in overtime over Bennett in the opening round of the state playoffs on Friday, Roaring Fork appeared to have Saturday’s game in the bag in the early stages of the fourth quarter.

A 7-2 run to start the frame gave the Rams a 55-41 lead with 4 minutes, 20 second left in the game.

But Sirios and No. 10 Weld Central weren’t through.

The speedy guard, whose shooting range is seemingly boundless, fueled a comeback that saw the Rebels eventually level the count at 65.

Sirios, who averaged just over 20 points a game this season, scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the final 3:16 of regulation. He fouled out with 12.4 seconds remaining, moments before teammate Cody Bowen drilled a long 3-pointer to tie the game at 65 with three seconds left.

“He’s only a sophomore,” Sirios said. “With him shooting, I thought it was in.”

Without Sirios in overtime, though, the Rebels ran out of gas.

Kicked off by back-to-back Carpenter layups, Roaring Fork started overtime with a 13-1 run that had a sizable home crowd abuzz.

“We’re not afraid to take teams deep into the game,” Rams senior Jake Strack-Loertscher said. “It all started with Aspen, after we lost to them in overtime.”

That Feb. 11 loss in Aspen – a 56-53 heartbreaker in double overtime – effectively turned Roaring Fork’s season around. The Rams have won all eight of their games since.

“That was the turning point,” Strack-Loertscher added. “We decided we’re not letting this happen. We’ll step up and do what we need to do.”

Said sophomore Dakotah Grett: “We’d lost [three] in a row in overtime and that bothered us. We can’t lose in the end. We knew we had to step up our intensity. We had to step up our focus. We’ve been doing that a little during this eight-game winning streak.”

Beyond focus, balance and depth have contributed to Roaring Fork’s late-season surge. With six Rams reaching double figures in scoring, Saturday was no exception.

Strack-Loertscher led the way with 18 points, followed by Carpenter with 17, Grett with 14, Trae Moxley with 13 and Trent Reeds and Dalton Handy with 10 apiece.

Carpenter scored seven in overtime alone and Reeds led the team with nine rebounds. Both did their damage off the bench.

“We’re balanced,” Grett said. “It’s not like the teams that have one great star. … For us, we have three or four guys that can put the ball in the bucket consistently. It’s not like you shut this guy down and the team’s done. Everybody can score. Everybody contributes.”

Weld Central had contributions from all corners of its roster, too.

Behind Sirios in scoring was Bowen, who finished with 18 points. Brandon Hoff finished with 11 for the Rebels, who wrapped the season with a 19-5 record.

“It’s been one of the best seasons of our lives, and our fans’ lives,” Sirios said. “We just wanted to keep it going. I’m really proud of my teammates. I wish we could have gone farther, but I’m really proud.”

Jefferson Academy is next for Roaring Fork.

jcaspersen@postindependent.com


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