Key late defensive stand leads Titans over Rams | PostIndependent.com

Key late defensive stand leads Titans over Rams

Roaring Fork's Justin Thompson puts up a shot in front of Coal Ridge's Kevin DiMarco during Tuesday's 3A Western Slope tilt in Carbondale.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent |

Two heavyweights came together Tuesday night in Carbondale at Roaring Fork High School, and what emerged from the dust was a candidate for game of the year, in which the visiting Coal Ridge Titans were able to eek out a narrow 68-64 win on the road over the Roaring Fork Rams, thanks to a late defensive stand in the 4-point ball game, forcing an errant shot by the Rams just before the buzzer to seal the win.

Prior to the last minute or so of the game, it looked like the Titans were going to run away with a big road win against a Rams team that was tied for first in the 3A Western Slope League after knocking off the Grand Valley Cardinals — then ranked No. 3 in the state — on Saturday in Parachute.

After holding a 34-31 lead at the half, the Titans came out in the third quarter and outscored the Rams 20-10 on their home floor to take a 13-point lead into the final quarter of play. But that’s when Roaring Fork senior Justin Thompson stepped into the spotlight and pulled the Rams back from the brink, making it a game down the stretch.

“When you go up against a great team like this [Roaring Fork], they’re going to claw back into it, especially at home,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Paul Harvey said. “They made some good plays, and we made some mistakes. We hope we learn from the mistakes. They’re really good, they play hard and they’re so well-coached that you can’t keep them down for long.”

Leading up to the halftime advantage for Coal Ridge, Roaring Fork gave the Titans everything they could handle offensively as the star duo of junior forward Joe Salinas and Thompson carried the Rams to leads of 17-14 after one quarter of play and 20-14 early in the second quarter.

Going up against a tough Kevin DiMarco in the paint for the Titans, Salinas was dialed in from the start, whether it was in the paint or beyond the arc, drilling two early 3-pointers while also getting some tough shots to fall in the paint. As Salinas caught fire, so too did DiMarco, who hit a 3-pointer to start the game and added some big buckets at the rim against a swarming Roaring Fork defense.

Salinas stretched the Roaring Fork lead to 20-14 in the second quarter with a pull-up 3-pointer, but the Titans battled back as DiMarco and junior forward Payton White hit shots in the lane. Following a Ronald Clemente free throw for Roaring Fork, DiMarco grabbed an offensive rebound and put a shot back up to pull the Titans to within one point at 21-20, leading to a 3-pointer from Coal Ridge senior guard Brandon Herrera to put the Titans in the lead for the first time since DiMarco’s layup in the first quarter.

Late in the second quarter Clemente would splash home a 3-pointer from the left corner to pull the Rams to within one point at 32-31, but a layup just before the buzzer by Coal Ridge junior center Connor Detlefsen — who had 10 of his 13 points in the first half — sent the Titans into the break with the 3-point lead on the road.

“Connor’s been playing really well for us,” Harvey said. “That big lineup with him and Kevin [DiMarco] really gives teams fits and forces them to decide who to guard inside and who to leave open. It’s a unique situation with him and Kevin because I’ve never had two kids that size on the same team. Connor was pretty dang awesome tonight.”

Holding the 3-point lead at the half, the Titans emerged from the locker room and pushed the pace against the Rams, as DiMarco started the scoring with two buckets inside to take a 38-31 lead. Thompson answered back with a mid-range jumper for the Rams, but the Titans took off from there as DiMarco hit another tough shot in the lane, while junior guard Jesus Camunez came off the bench and drilled a 3-pointer to give the Titans a 43-35 lead. Herrera got into the lane and hit a twisting shot before White pulled up from way beyond the arc on the Titans’ next possession to splash home a 3-pointer of his own.

Roaring Fork senior guard Irving Anchondo answered at the other end for the Rams with a triple of his own, but a 3-point play by Detlefsen in the paint and a 3-pointer from Herrera sandwiched a 3-point play by Thompson to send the Titans into the final quarter of play with a 13-point lead over the Rams.

“We cleaned up the rebounding in the second quarter because we felt like our defense in the first half was good, but we just gave them some second-chance points,” Harvey said. “We wanted to come out in the second half and push the pace and pressure them. If we could get the score into the 60s, that’s what we want. We got them going fast and we got the running game going because we ran a full-court man-to-man, instead of our normal press, so that really sped them up.”

With a big lead on the road heading into the fourth quarter, the Titans appeared to take their foot off the gas, which in turn left the door wide open for a Roaring Fork comeback on its home floor, even without the services of an injured Salinas.

“We talk a lot about score, stop, score,” Roaring Fork Head Coach Larry Williams said. “Thirteen points isn’t a whole lot to overcome, so if you can go down and score, get back and get a stop and score again, then you’re in good shape. We work on that a lot in practice, that’s basically what we were saying in between quarters.”

Senior forward Aidan Sloan hit a floater in the lane to get the Roaring Fork comeback started before Thompson hit a shot in the lane through contact, sinking the ensuing free throw for the 3-point play. Trailing by 9 points, Thompson became a man on a mission for the Rams, getting a 3-pointer to bounce off the rim and in to pull to within 8 points after layups from junior guard Jan Hernandez and Herrera for the Titans.

Clemente hit two free throws for the Rams before junior guard Oscar Miranda drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to pull the Rams to within five at 59-54. But Coal Ridge senior Brody Morgan came through with a big play, grabbing an offensive rebound off of a missed free throw, putting the ball back up for an easy layup to give the Titans a 7-point lead again. Clemente and DiMarco then traded free throws before Anchondo nailed a 3-pointer and Sloan hit a driving layup, leading to a steal near mid-court from Thompson.

With an open court in front of him, Thompson — who scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the fourth quarter — threw down a ferocious dunk, igniting the home crowd while pulling the Rams to within five points again at 65-60.

“Justin played his heart out tonight, like he always does,” Williams said. “He knew that the other captain was out, and he tried to pick up the slack. Unfortunately, he was so exhausted because we couldn’t give him a rest with substitutions. Some of his shots down the stretch that he normally makes came up short because he was so tired.”

The Titans would all but ice the game at the line as Herrera split a pair and White sank both tries to make it 68-60. Thompson wouldn’t go quietly though, hitting two free throws on one possession before hitting a tough shot in the lane for a possible 3-point play with just 34 seconds left. The senior missed the free throw, but the Rams maintained possession as White lost the ball out of bounds for the Titans through contact.

That’s where the Titan defense stood tall, suffocating the Rams on the perimeter, forcing a tough look from beyond the arc that missed wide, settling into Hernandez’s hands to run out the clock for a Coal Ridge win.

“That’s by far the best we’ve played all year defensively,” Harvey said. “If we clean up some rebounds and loose balls, I think we can get even better. But we had great pressure from the guards; they played with great energy and aggression. It was a great step in the right direction.”

For Coal Ridge, DiMarco led the way with 17 points before fouling out, while Herrera and Detlefsen added 14 and 13 points, respectively. Thompson poured in a game-high 25 points on the night for the Rams, while Salinas scored 11 first-half points. Clemente and Anchondo added 8 points each for Roaring Fork.

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Roaring Fork 47, Coal Ridge 43

Just two days after dropping a tough decision on the road to Grand Valley due to issues against a full-court trap, the Roaring Fork Rams’ girls basketball team found itself in a similar situation on Tuesday night against the visiting Coal Ridge Titans. This time, the Rams finished off the game strong, picking up a big 47-43 win in 3A Western Slope League action.

With no Emily Broadhurst or Gabby Santana due to both fouling out with just over two minutes to go, the Rams had to figure out how to beat Coal Ridge’s trap with just one ball-handling guard. Junior Logan Erickson seemingly learned rather quickly from Saturday’s loss and made sure Tuesday night wouldn’t end the same way.

A jumper and one free throw from junior forward Kendall Bernot and four free throws from Erickson after beating the press helped the Rams ice the foul-filled game on their home floor.

“We were just in that situation on Saturday, so we talked about it a lot,” Roaring Fork Head Coach Jade Bath said. “I think because we just went through it, we stayed composed. I told them it was gut-check time. I told them this game is ours and we just had to go finish it.”

Fortunately for the Rams, they were able to finish off a game that they led, even after allowing a number of offensive rebounds and turning the ball over nearly 30 times.

However, the Titans simply couldn’t capitalize on the Rams’ mistakes throughout the game, whereas the Rams made the most of their opportunities when they got them.

Holding a 24-17 lead at the half, the Rams came out slowly in the second half, allowing the Titans to outscore them 16-8 in the third quarter to take a 33-32 lead into the final quarter of play, but Erickson, Broadhurst and Bernot clawed the Rams all the way back to hang on for an important home win.

Against the Titans, Erickson led the way for the Rams with 11 points, while Broadhurst and Bernot added 10 and 7 points.

Freshman center Taylor Wiescamp led the Titans with 11 points, while senior guard Santana Martinez and junior guard Adriana Varges added 9 and 6 points for Coal Ridge in the loss.