Bears split with Bulldogs in tough league matchup
Thanks to two free throws with 1.7 seconds left in the game from junior guard Elly Walters, the Rifle Bears were able to hold of the Palisade Bulldogs’ fourth quarter comeback attempt for a big 35-33 win in 4A Western Slope League action inside Jack Smith Gymnasium on Friday night.
Walters finished with a game-high 14 points in the win, yet her biggest points came at the free throw line with just under two seconds to go after driving left into the lane to draw a foul on a layup attempt, allowing the standout junior to win the game for Rifle in dramatic fashion.
“We knew with the foul situation that Palisade was in that we were going to try and get into the lane and either hit a shot or draw a foul,” Rifle Head Coach Kristy Wallner said. “When they went to man there in that situation, we knew it was going to be Elly to take the last shot for us.”
By relying on Walters in the final possession, Rifle was able to pull out its 14th win of the season and seventh win in league play to overtake the Bulldogs for first place in the 4A WSL.
But much like the previous matchup earlier in the season, a 30-21 win for the Bulldogs, Friday’s matchup was a physical defensive battle that featured long, drawn out offensive possessions and tons of fouls.
Fortunately for the Bears though, this game went in their favor at the best possible time.
To start the game, Rifle and Palisade traded buckets in the first quarter as Walters and junior guard Katy Manuppella were able to get the Bears on the board with three-pointers, but a bucket in the paint from Emma Haas and a three-pointer near the end of the quarter from Christa Brown gave the Bulldogs a slim 7-6 lead after one quarter of play.
Much like the first quarter, the two teams again traded baskets in the second quarter as Brown started the quarter off with a steal and a layup to make it 9-6 Bulldogs. Walters would respond though with a driving layup through contact, completing the three-point play at the free throw line to tie it up at 9-all.
Following Walters’ layup, junior guard Karly Manuppella got in on the action, hitting a mid-range jumper from the left wing before then drawing a foul and sinking both free throws on the next possession to give the Bears a 13-9 lead midway through the quarter.
Palisade would then close the second quarter on a 4-0 run to send the teams into the half knotted up at 13-all.
Coming out of the break for the second half, the action would intensify as both offenses seemed to settle into a groove as Palisade’s Abby Theissen started the second half with a midrange jumper to give the Bulldogs a brief lead.
From there, Walters would split a pair of free throws before hitting a layup to make it 16-15 Rifle.
Haas and Walters would then trade buckets, but Rifle would open it up as Karly Manuppella hit a corner three-pointer before then sprinting the length of the court on the next possession to receive a terrific full-court pass from Walters for a layup that would give the Bears their largest lead of the night to that point, 23-17.
The two teams would then split free throws to send the game into the fourth quarter with the Bears holding a 24-19 lead over the Bulldogs.
In the fourth quarter, Rifle would extend its lead to 27-19 to start the final eight minutes as Katy Manuppella hit her second three-pointer of the game before Palisade would answer with a layup from Brown to make it 27-21.
Walters would then split a pair of free throws before Palisade’s Jessica Bellmire and Karly Manuppella would trade baskets to make it 30-23 Rifle, but from that point on the Palisade comeback attempt would be in overdrive.
After a tough putback shot in the paint from Rifle junior forward Samantha Hinkle made it 32-25 Bears with just under three minutes to go in the game, Palisade embarked on an 8-1 run to tie the game with just 20 seconds left as a layup from Haas would knot it at 33-33, setting up Walters’ heroics.
After sinking the two free throws, Walters would play a part in batting down Palisade’s inbound play near half court to clinch the thrilling win at home.
“Palisade is a really talented team and really well-coached,” Wallner said. “We knew how tough this game was going to be, so I’m extremely proud that we were able to hold them off and pick up the win. This is a really big win for us, but the girls know we’re not done yet.”
With the win, Rifle improves to 14-3, 7-1 4A WSL on the season. Walters finished with 14 points, while Karly Manuppella added 12 points. Katy Manuppella chipped in with seven points for the Bears.
PALISADE 52, RIFLE 40
A fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the Rifle Bears stalled late in the final frame, allowing the visiting Palisade Bulldogs to pick up a big league win over the Bears, 52-40 Friday night inside Jack Smith Gymnasium.
Heading into the final eight minutes of play, Rifle found itself trailing Palisade 34-24, yet a furious rally — highlighted by a 12-2 run to start the fourth quarter — by the Bears would knot the game up at 36-36. But foul trouble and missed shots ultimately did in the Bears at home as Palisade would clinch the win by going 14 for 14 from the free throw line in the final four minutes of the game to pull away from the Bears.
Leading up to the fourth quarter, the Bears struggled to get anything going offensively against the Bulldogs, scoring in single digits in each of the first three quarters as the Bulldogs connected on eight three-pointers to hold the 10-point lead after three. But in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Bears found their stroke as senior forward Jacob Boone hit a tough turnaround jumper in the paint, while senior guard Blaine Vance and sophomore forward Carter Sturgeon each hit a pair of free throws to spark the rally.
Following Sturgeon’s two free throws, the Bears were able to come up with a turnover as Vance stole the inbound pass to set up the Rifle offense.
Nearly turning the ball over while trying to execute a play, Vance was able to keep Palisade’s Miguel Quintana away from the loose ball before finding Sturgeon in the corner for a three-pointer to pull Rifle to within 36-33.
On the next Bears possession, Vance would be the one to tie the game with a three-pointer from the wing, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
But despite the terrific rally in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Rifle would score just four points the rest of the way as the Bears watched Quintana, Max Noland and Dan MacLean march to the free throw line and hit a combined 14 of 14 from the charity stripe to pull away for the win.
With the loss, Rifle falls to 8-10, 5-3 4A WSL on the season. Vance, Sturgeon and Boone scored nine points each to pace the Rifle offense, while junior forward Evan Gray added six points for the Bears.
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