Rifle second-half comeback comes up short against Palisade
A furious rally to start the second half by the Rifle Bears boys basketball team came up painstakingly short Thursday night inside Jack Smith Gymnasium against the visiting Palisade Bulldogs as a 3-point attempt by junior Omar Chavez just missed, handing the Bulldogs an important 44-42 win in 4A Western Slope League action after winter break.
Trailing by 15 points after a listless first half, the Bears emerged from the locker room against the Bulldogs and proceeded to rip off 13 straight points to pull to within two of the Bulldogs as juniors Joel Lopez and Chavez — making his first career varsity start in just his second career game — provided the spark for the Bears at both ends of the floor.
“Omar didn’t get to suit up with varsity until Battle Mountain one game ago,” Rifle head coach Kyle Daniell said. “He’s a lot like Joel in that both bring a lot of energy and are fearless competitors. I started Omar tonight because at the end of the day, what we need to hang our hat on is that winning mentality and hard work to do whatever it takes. He’s getting rewarded for his hard work, and I’m very proud and happy for Omar. When you play your butt off and play hard and compete, the ball’s going to find you, and it did for Omar and Joel in the second half.”
After a first-half that saw Palisade do largely whatever it wanted offensively to take a 29-14 lead into the half, Rifle looked like a completely different team in the opening minutes of the third quarter as Chavez and Lopez consistently attacked the basket without fear, while senior guard Jacob Seeman drained a 3-pointer, igniting the home crowd into a frenzy, stunning Palisade.
“It wasn’t anything scientific or spectacular that we said or did at the half,” Daniell said. “We are not successful when we go through the motions and just expect success. The difference was in the second half we made things happen; we were engaged. It’s a winning mentality, regardless of what the scoreboard said at the end.”
In the thrilling third quarter, Rifle out-scored Palisade 15-6, but that 13-0 run seemed to be all for naught as the Bulldogs ripped off 6 points towards the end of the quarter to hold a 35-29 lead with just eight minutes left to play. Credit to the Bears though as the young group continued to scratch and claw for every loose ball, every rebound opportunity and every bucket they could find, allowing them to eventually tie the game up at 42-42 with just under two minutes to go as Lopez hit a layup and drew the foul, leading to a flurry of action.
Following the and-1 conversion, Lopez’s free throw attempt missed just slightly left, falling to the floor where senior center Blake Swasey was able to corral the rebound and put the ball back up for a layup, pulling the Bears to within two. Lopez then drew another foul on the next Rifle possession, sinking both free throws to tie the game.
Tied at 42-42, Palisade and Rifle struggled to buy a bucket again until Bulldog senior guard Sebastian Campbell knifed into the lane and hit a tough floater in traffic with 16 seconds left, giving the Bulldogs a 44-42 lead. With no timeouts left, Rifle had to run a play on the fly.
Seeman found Chavez alone in the left corner for a great look from beyond the arc, but the junior’s shot was off just slightly, missing as time expired to give the Bulldogs a much-needed win in league action.
“Credit to Palisade tonight,” Daniell said. “Both teams were in the same boat coming into this game. We’ve both been taking our lumps and needed a win tonight. Palisade fought hard, and it was a great challenge for us. I am very pleased with how we responded in the second half.”
In the loss, Lopez led the way for Rifle with 21 points, while Chavez and Seeman added 6 points each. Sophomore Kevin Loya led the way for Palisade with 12 points, while Campbell and junior Zane Haas added 10 points each for the Bulldogs.
Rifle sits at 1-8 (0-2 4A WSL) on the season. The Bears will host Glenwood Springs Jan. 9 in a rivalry matchup at 7:30 p.m.
Rifle 36, Palisade 21
In a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the 4A Western Slope League from one year ago, the Rifle Bears girls basketball team reigned supreme over the visiting Palisade Bulldogs, rolling to a 36-21 win in a game that was never close.
Rifle jumped out to a 13-3 lead after one quarter of play and never looked back, clamping down defensively against the Bulldogs while executing well offensively in halfcourt sets to cruise to the 15-point win inside Jack Smith Gymnasium Thursday night.
Rifle senior Peyton Caldwell started the scoring on the night for the Bears, laying in a wide-open attempt off of a great feed from fellow senior Elly Walters, kick-starting the game in fashion as the Bulldogs simply couldn’t stop Rifle’s movement off the ball offensively, which led to a number of open looks on the night.
Walters then found senior guard Katy Manuppella on the fast break to make it 4-0 Bears before Manuppella then turned around and found junior Masi Smith, making it 6-0 quickly, making sure the game was never close.
Despite winning by 15, Rifle never really came up with an answer for Palisade’s Anita Ramos in the post. Ramos led the Bulldogs with 16 points on the night as just one other Bulldog hit a field goal in the loss.
Walters was her usual dominant self for Rifle, hitting a number of tough layups in traffic on the way to 11 points, dishing out 6 assists in the win. Katy Manuppella added 9 points for the Bears, while Karly Manuppella chipped in with 9 points of her own.
The two teams combined for just 6 points in the fourth quarter as Rifle chewed up a lot of clock without taking a shot.
Rifle sits at 7-1 (1-0 4A WSL) on the season. The Bears will host Glenwood Springs Jan. 9 at 6 p.m.