Rifle nearly knocks off Warriors

Phil Sandoval
Post Independent Staff

GRAND JUNCTION – In a night of comebacks, Rifle finished one pass short of a win.

Needing three-and-half quarters to gain a lead over Grand Junction Central, the Bears couldn’t hold on to a three-point lead in the final two minutes of Tuesday’s non-league contest, dropping a 50-49 to the host Warriors.

Rifle started out well. It took the early lead, and held a 13-10 at the end of the first quarter.

But poor shooting in the following eight minutes had the Bears in a 29-20 deficit at intermission as the Warriors limited them to seven points in the second quarter, while scoring 19.

Rifle hit on just 18 of 52 field goal attempts. But offense, according to coach Chris Lowther, was the team’s problem.

“We should have never allowed Central that comeback,” he said. “We let them get to a 15-point lead at one point.”

The Bears pulled within seven by the end of the third period, before going on a sustained run at the start of the fourth quarter.

Thad Porter scored two field goals and Ryan Shideler added a basket in a 6-0 run to reduce Central’s lead to two before Maurice Manley scored the Warriors’ first points of the period.

Down by four, the Bears came right back.

Jim Owens swished a 3-pointer for their first lead since the first quarter and Shideler’s basket on a feed inside the lane from Aaron Jewell with 2:24 left gave Rifle a 46-43 lead.

And after Chris Johnson fouled Bear Adam Krick on the next possession after a Warrior miss, Rifle was in a position to add to its lead.

It didn’t happen.

Krick missed both free throws, allowing Central to get back in the game.

After getting to the front court, Zack Hazelhurst’s hurried shot from just inside the free throw lane hit the front iron, then blooped in, shaving the Bears’ lead to one.

Thirty seconds later, a Rifle personal foul sent Johnson to the free throw line.

Johnson, who finished with 22 points, made both shots for the lead – allowing the Warriors to sit back and played defense, with an eye on Shideler.

Johnson saw the play coming when Porter attempted to loop a pass inside to his teammate with 52 seconds left. Johnson flicked the pass into the hands of a teammate, and the play forced Rifle into fouling to get ball back.

Central spoiled the strategy by making three-of-four free throws. Johnson put the Warriors up by four with seven seconds remaining.

Shideler responded by draining a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, to come up one point short.

“We missed a lot of layups,” Lowther said. “They switched defenses, that confused us and we missed on some pretty important possessions.”

The loss drops Rifle to 2-4 on the season heading into Friday’s Western Slope League opener at home with Delta.

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