Coal Ridge plays tough for third place |

Coal Ridge plays tough for third place

Joelle Milholm
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

PALISADE ” These guys want it.

Coal Ridge proved that with a gritty, fight-to-the-death overtime win over Gunnison to finish in third place in the Class 3A District 2 Tournament on Saturday at Palisade High School.

The win will give Coal Ridge (14-7) a higher seed than Gunnison in the regional tournament bracket, which will be released today. It is also one of the best wins Coal Ridge head coach Brian Blair has been involved with.

“It’s right up there with that Grand Valley game (last week when Coal Ridge defeated the Cardinals by one point),” he said. “We get kinda desperate, and then all of a sudden we banded together and played really well on both sides of the ball.”

Clawing back from a 12-point deficit with three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Titans came back with one big play after another ” like an Eric Schmitz 3-pointer to take a 56-55 lead with 30 seconds to go or a Skyler James steal after Gunnison tied it at 56 ” to force OT.

Zach Lyons hit a jumper and Schmitz backed that up with a steal and layup as Coal Ridge took an immediate 60-56 lead in overtime. After Gunnison hit one free throw, Andy Smedra found Alex Klein cutting through the lane for another bucket and the Titans had a 62-57 lead with 1:45 to go.

Gunnison answered with its fair share of clutch plays, as Kolby Pringle hit a 3, Cameron Nicholl got a layup, and Michael Pitre cashed in on a three-point play to put the Cowboys up 65-64 with less than a minute left on the clock.

With 20 seconds to play, Titan Braxton Jackson grabbed an offensive rebound and put it in the basket for what turned out to be the winning points as the Titans went up 66-65. His teammate Evan Wagstrom came up with a steal on the next possession, and with 8.4 seconds remaining, hit one of two free throws to give Coal Ridge a two-point cushion.

Gunnison missed a 3-pointer and put back in the closing seconds, sending the Coal Ridge players, the coaching staff and their already excited fans into jubilation.

“I am not going to have a voice for a week,” Blair said after the game. “I am going to have to teach my classes in sign language.”

Outside of his 21 points, Schmitz was the force that fueled the Titans’ fire. With five steals and dominating defense, as well as four assists and four rebounds, the junior guard contained Gunnison’s deadly perimeter shooting.

“I thought that we had a lot of emotion, and he was one of the guys who was able to make that emotion positive and turn it into good plays for the team. …,” Blair said of Schmitz. “He told me yesterday after we played Aspen, ‘I love playing defense so much the way we played it yesterday,’ so I knew he was going to come out and go all after it, and he did.”

James led the Titans in scoring with 23 points on a day when numerous Coal Ridge shots bounced in and out of the hoop. Gunnison had five players in double digits in scoring and outshot the Titans from the perimeter, making six 3s compared to Coal Ridge’s two.

The Titans will next play in regionals next weekend, hoping coming off the heels of a thrilling win will give them some momentum ” especially considering the level of play they faced in districts.

“The Cedaredge game told us that when we play through four quarters, we can dominate a team that we are better than and then we played well against Aspen for three out of four quarters last night and the one quarter we played bad it got us out of the game,” Blair said. “Then to come back tonight, we gotta feel like anybody we play, if we are on, we can play with them and we’ve got a chance to win.”

Matraisa Beecraft wasn’t going down without a fight. The Coal Ridge guard drove the lane, drew a lot of hard fouls, dove for loose balls and hustled all over the court for the Titans.

While her efforts got her 20 points and four steals, it wasn’t enough to lift Coal Ridge over Hotchkiss in the third-place showdown of the Class 3A District 2 Tournament on Saturday.

“I really wanted it and I know my team did too, but they were the better team today, and that’s just the way it is,” Beecraft said.

Twelve of Beecraft’s points came in the first half, when the Titans were neck and neck with the Bulldogs and entered halftime down only 22-21.

In the third quarter, Coal Ridge got caught up in Hotchkiss’ half-court trap that forced nine turnovers and helped the Bulldogs go on a 9-0 run. Claudia Temmer had five steals and 11 points in the frame to help Hotchkiss pull away.

With Mikaela Guettler and Kelly Romero benched with injuries, the Titans started the game shorthanded. Then Beecraft, Morgan Jessup, who had seven points, and Tori Verdieck, who scored four, all fouled out in the fourth quarter, leaving Coal Ridge with only five eligible players in the closing seconds. Despite the adversity, Beecraft was proud of her team after the game.

“We played awesome. …,” she said. “Our defense was awesome. That’s our thing.”

Basalt, the Western Slope League champions, repeated as District 2 Champions with a 60-55 win over Olathe on Saturday and will head into regionals with a top seed.

Coal Ridge (11-10) left the district tournament with one win, two losses and the fourth-place spot, but will still be going on to regionals next weekend. The Colorado High School Activities Association will release the regional brackets today.

“I am so excited,” Beecraft said about going to regionals. “I just want to win that first game. I want to go out there and show them who Coal Ridge is.”

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