Bears split with Huskies to open league play
Provided a spark by the return of bulldog senior guard Blaine Vance, the Rifle Bears boys basketball team battled hard with the visiting Battle Mountain Huskies Tuesday inside Jack Smith Gymnasium before falling short at the buzzer, 39-38, in a bizarre game of basketball to open 4A Western Slope League play.
Rifle went into the half with a 30-27 lead thanks to 10 points each from standout forwards Jacob Boone and Carter Sturgeon, but in the second half Battle Mountain Head Coach Philip Tronsrue decided to pull the ball out and have his backcourt hold the ball — literally — for about five minutes in total in the third quarter.
It looked like a live rendition of the trending “mannequin challenge” that has circulated the Internet in recent months as Rifle rightfully refused to come out of its zone defense, playing a cat-and-mouse game with the Huskies, who were nursing a two-point lead — 32-30 — at the time.
The act by the visiting Huskies created a stir inside Jack Smith Gymnasium as the Rifle home crowd showered them with boos for the duration of the silliness. Fortunately for Rifle, once Battle Mountain’s Luis Mendoza decided to start play back up, the Bears forced him into a turnover that led to a layup from Boone in transition, sending the gym into a frenzy.
Following Rifle’s bucket, Battle Mountain went right into the same tactic once again, holding the ball near midcourt without dribbling, looking to force Rifle out of its zone defense, shortening the game in the process.
Up until that point the matchup between the Huskies and the Bears to start 4A WSL action was quite entertaining as the two teams with tons of size and athleticism traded basket after basket in the first half.
Battle Mountain started the game with a three-pointer from Baker Gentry before Sturgeon answered at the other end with a triple to tie the game. Devin Huffman then splashed home a three-pointer for the Huskies before Vance — making his season debut — made a nice move to get past his man before euro-stepping into the lane for the layup to pull Rifle to within one, 6-5, early in the game.
As Vance’s first shot fell home, it seemed to spark the team that has been missing his physicality, defense and leadership to start the season. With their leader back the Bears seemed to be in good spirits.
“He’s our toughest player, our best defender and has the highest basketball IQ of anyone on this team,” Rifle Head Coach Roger Walters said. “We’re a much different team with him on the floor for us, so it was great to have him back tonight. The guys seem to feed off of him.”
Trailing 6-5, Rifle would trade three-pointers with Battle Mountain to close the quarter as Gentry hit his second triple of the game before junior guard Jacob Seeman answered with a three-pointer of his own to give the Bears a 12-11 lead.
Sturgeon would add a jumper in transition to stretch Rifle’s lead to 14-11, but the Huskies would roar back to take a 16-14 lead after eight minutes of play as Gentry banked home a three-pointer from the top of the key to close things out in the first quarter of play.
In the second quarter the two teams continued to get up and down in transition as Huffman sandwiched two three-pointers around a Rifle layup from junior forward Evan Gray to give the Huskies a 22-16 lead.
Battle Mountain would score just five points the rest of the quarter as the Rifle defense clamped down, allowing Vance to hit a three-pointer coming off a screen, while Sturgeon added a three-pointer and a deft bank-shot jumper in transition off of an assist from Boone to give the Bears a 30-27 lead at the half.
From there, that’s where the game took a turn for the worse as the theatrics started in the second half, causing a dull third quarter in which just eight points were scored.
Thankfully, the game resumed in the fourth quarter, but in the final eight minutes of action the Bears had a tough time on the glass as the Huskies dominated possession to hang on for the one-point win.
“We had a really tough time getting to loose balls and rebounding against them in the fourth quarter,” Walters said. “They controlled possession, which really hurt us offensively. We made some strides tonight as a team, but we got outworked again, and when we get outworked things like tonight happen. We’re just not tough enough.”
With the loss, Rifle falls to 1-7 (0-1 4A WSL) on the season.
The Bears will take on the Palisade Bulldogs Thursday on the road at 7 p.m.
RIFLE 46, BATTLE MOUNTAIN 32
Shaking off some of the new year rust, the Rifle Lady Bears got off to a slow start Tuesday against the Battle Mountain Huskies before exploding offensively to roll to a 14-point win to open up the 4A Western Slope League season.
Trailing 6-0 early thanks to two three-pointers from Battle Mountain point guard Monique Stevens, the Bears kicked it into high gear as junior guard Elly Walters found her groove offensively, scoring 10 of the 11 Rifle points in the first quarter on two three-pointers and two driving layups, sparking the Bears offense in the process.
With Walters providing balance to the Rifle attack from the perimeter and as a driving guard, teammates Samantha Hinkle and Jessie Pressler were able to find open shots as the Bears’ offense caught fire in the second quarter, scoring 18 points to roll into halftime with a 29-18 lead as Carley Rice capped off the scoring onslaught with a nice backdoor cut to drop home a layup at the buzzer.
In the second half the Bears turned to Hinkle as the standout senior went to work in the post, scoring six of the nine Rifle points in the third quarter to all but put the game away.
In the final eight minutes of action, Hinkle again went to work, drilling a three-pointer from the top of the key to allow the Bears to turn to their subs to close it out.
Senior forward Mackenzie Ventrello put the finishing touches on the win, hitting three of four free throws in the final minute to cap off the 14-point win for the Bears, getting them off to a perfect start in league play.
In the win, Walters finished with a game-high 18 points while Hinkle poured in 17 points. Rice added four points for the Bears, while Pressler and Ventrello added three-points each. Katy Manuppella added one point, splitting a pair of free throws in the first quarter.
With the win, Rifle improves to 5-2 (1-0 4A WSL) on the season. The Lady Bears will travel to Palisade on Thursday for a showdown with the Bulldogs at 5:30 p.m.
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