Second-half spurts leads Coal Ridge basketball to a sweep of Rifle
The Rifle Bears boys basketball team accomplished what no team this season has been able to accomplish to this point: hold the Coal Ridge Titans in check.
Unfortunately for the Bears, Coal Ridge’s stifling defense and lightning-quick senior point guard Jan Hernandez willed the Titans to a 46-37 win over the visiting Bears Tuesday night in New Castle in a matchup of unbeaten teams coming off of tournament championships the previous weekend.
Rifle mucked it up in its traditional 2-3 zone defense, forcing standout Coal Ridge senior center Kevin DiMarco to the perimeter, which threw the Titans’ offense into a funk, allowing the Bears to punch back time and time again throughout Tuesday’s non-league battle between the two schools separated by a mere 13 miles.
Tied at 6-all after one quarter of play, the Bears extended their lead to 14-8 over the Titans midway through the second quarter with DiMarco on the bench in foul trouble as junior guard Trey Lujan hit a layup and 3-pointer, and senior Darien Church split a pair of free throws, shifting momentum quickly into Rifle’s favor.
The Bears made sure Coal Ridge couldn’t penetrate the lane and forced them into one-and-done possessions, refusing to give up an offensive rebound in the first half.
“We know that they have a ton of weapons to work with,” said Kyle Daniell, Rifle’s head coach. “But I couldn’t have been happier with our start defensively. We have such a smart group of kids that we’re able to make adjustments on the fly. They executed to a tee, played team defense and made it very tough.”
Following a Lujan layup that made it 16-10, DiMarco came off the bench for the Titans and helped spark Coal Ridge’s resurgence on the offensive end. The big senior hit a spinning layup along the baseline before senior guard Jesus Camunez drilled a 3-pointer, making it a 16-15 game.
Rifle sophomore Carter Pressler responded with a 3-pointer of his own from the left corner making it 19-15, but another 3-pointer by Camunez and a free throw from Hernandez tied the game at 19-19. Lujan split a pair of free throws late in the quarter, sending the two teams into the half with Rifle in front 20-19.
In that final two minute stretch of the second quarter though, Coal Ridge found its footing, and that carried over into the second half.
“We know what Rifle’s defense is like,” said Paul Harvey, Coal Ridge’s veteran head coach. “We reiterated where we wanted to attack them, and we told Kevin [DiMarco] that he had to get into the paint and help collapse their zone so that we can attack. Rifle has a heck of a game plan; they want slow it down, make it ugly and get you off of your rhythm. They did a heck of a job doing that. I don’t think we every truly got into rhythm.”
Coming out of the half, Camunez hit his third 3-pointer of the game, giving the Titans an early 22-20 lead. After a pair of free throws from Rifle senior Joel Lopez tied the game at 22-22, Coal Ridge senior Payton White hit a spinning layup in traffic through contact, sinking the ensuing free throw to cap off the 3-point play, giving the Titans a 25-22 lead.
Minutes later White hit a 3-pointer and sank two free throws, extending the Titans’ lead to 32-24 before Lopez answered with a layup in transition for the Bears.
The Titans closed the third quarter on a 5-0 run as sophomore Moises Contreras hit a layup in traffic off of a great feed from senior Kevyn Flores along the baseline, and Hernandez converted a layup in transition through contact, hitting the ensuing free throw to fire up the home crowd with the Titans holding a 37-28 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
“That was such a crazy moment,” said Hernandez following the win. “I couldn’t even hear myself yelling with excitement because it was so loud in there. That was a great moment for me; you love to face tough teams like this. That seemed to really set us off.”
Junior guard Austin Gerber opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from in front of the Titans’ student section, extending the lead to 40-28 before White skied in for a tip-in off of a missed shot by the Titans, making it a 42-28 game, causing things to roll downhill for the Bears early in the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t want to get them amped up and going because they can score in bunches,” Daniell said. “Luckily, early on the game went that way for us, but then they got it rolling and it got away from us a bit.”
Holding a 14-point lead, the Titans ran into foul trouble as DiMarco fouled out on his third offensive foul of the game, while White picked up a foul and Hernandez was hit with two fouls while defending full court. Rifle took advantage as senior Omar Chavez went on a quick 6-0 run of his own, making it a 44-35 game, but Hernandez responded with a layup off of a slick feed from Camunez, stretching the lead back up to double figures at 46-35.
Church hit a layup in transition for the Bears with under a minute to go, capping off the scoring in the game.
Rifle (4-1) was led by Lopez with 9 points. Lujan and Chavez had 8 points each, while Pressler added 6 points and Church added 4 points. Coal Ridge (6-0) was led by Hernandez with 16 points, while Camunez added 9 points and White added 7 points. DiMarco, Gerber, and senior Jeremy Funes added 3 points each.
Coal Ridge 43, Rifle 30
Much like the boys game, the Rifle girls basketball team came out with high energy on both ends of the floor, knocking around the Coal Ridge Titans early on in Tuesday’s rivalry matchup in New Castle, which was the second matchup of the season between the two non-league schools.
That energy and confidence wore out down the stretch as the Titans battled back from a 9-4 deficit after one quarter of play and a 23-18 lead at the half to pull away for the 43-30 win over the Bears at home.
“Coal Ridge turned it up defensively with two superstar guards,” said Eric Caro, Rifle’s first-year head coach. “It’s game two of us coming out hot and punching teams in the mouth, but then we remember that we’re a team made up mostly of freshman and sophomores. It’s a learning process right now, but we’re building.”
Coal Ridge held Rifle to zero points in the third quarter, which also saw senior point guard Adrianna Vargas set the school’s single-game record for steals in a game with 11, breaking Paige Ryan’s record of 10.
“She was huge for us,” said Clyde Morgan, Coal Ridge’s head coach. “Once she started figuring out that Rifle was just passing it right back after one pass, she started jumping passes and stealing the ball, which helped us pick up the tempo and get to our game.”
Rifle came out strong racing out to a 6-2 lead as senior Masi Smith hit two free throws to open the game, while freshman Jamie Caron hit two free throws, and junior April Quinones hit a layup in transition. As the Rifle offense got some good looks, Coal Ridge couldn’t crack Rifle’s 2-3 zone early unless it was junior Lyanna Nevarez grabbing offensive rebounds and getting putback shots to fall, scoring all four first-quarter points for the Titans.
Caron then capped off the first quarter with a deep 3-pointer, giving Rifle the 9-4 lead after one quarter of play.
“She wasn’t rattled, and she was fearless all summer,” Caro said. “When she’s on fire, she’s on fire. She takes it to our girls every day in practice. Now it’s just about her maintaining that throughout the game and getting going on the defensive side of the ball.”
In the second quarter, Rifle junior Delaney Phillips hit a corner 3-pointer making it a 12-4 game in favor of Rifle, but that’s when the Titans woke up as Nevarez hit two shots off of offensive rebounds, while senior Kashley Morgan hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, making it a 14-12 game.
Morgan’s 3-pointer sparked an 11-0 run for the Titans as Nevarez hit another shot after an offensive rebound, while senior guards Alyssa Wenzel and Varges hit two free throws each before Varges stole the ball and scored, making it 20-14 Titans.
Rifle closed the quarter strong though as Smith hit a putback shot of her own and a midrange jumper before Varges hit a 3-pointer, sending the Titans into the half with a 23-18 lead, thanks largely to Nevarez’s work on the offensive glass.
“She played outstanding tonight,” said Morgan. “Offensive boards had been a problem for us the last two games, especially the last game against Glenwood. We just weren’t creating second-chance opportunities and tonight she was just really aggressive on the offensive boards. It really forced Rifle to suck in defensively to try and grab those rebounds, which opened up some looks with our guards.”
In the second half, Coal Ridge outscored the Bears 9-0 in the third quarter as Coal Ridge focused on Smith, pinching in on the zone at the top of the key, forcing Rifle players on the floor with Smith to try and make plays.
The 9-0 advantage in the third opened up a 32-18 lead heading into the fourth quarter of play, where the Titans had trouble closing out on some Rifle shots, allowing the Bears to heat up and put heat on the Titans late.
A 3-pointer by Phillips from the right corner midway through the final quarter of play pulled the Bears to within 12 points at 37-25, before a jumper by sophomore Mackenzie Elizardo and a 3-pointer from senior Danielle Doll made it a 10-point game at 40-30.
But Varges, on her record-setting night, wouldn’t let the Bears back into it completely, closing out the game with a layup through contact and the foul, sinking the free throw to cap off the 43-30 win for the Titans.
Rifle (0-3) was led by Smith with 8 points, while Phillips added 6 points. Caron and Doll added 5 points each.
Coal Ridge (4-3) was led by Varges with 17 points, while Nevarez added 12 points, 10 of which came off of offensive rebounds.
Wenzel added 7 points, while Morgan added 3 points.