Titans top Longhorns, hold tiebreaker in 3A Western Slope League championship race
In arguably the matchup of the year in the 3A Western Slope League, the Coal Ridge Titans (11-5, 5-1) topped the visiting Basalt Longhorns (14-2, 5-1) in front of a packed house in New Castle Tuesday night by a score of 58-52 to clinch the all-important tiebreaker in the regular season league title race between the two teams.
Thanks to some stifling team defense and clutch offensive possessions, the Titans were able to pull away in the second half, outscoring the Longhorns 34-29 to hold them well below their season average of 66 points per game heading into Tuesday’s matchup.
“We hang our hats on defense, and the boys came out to play tonight,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Paul Harvey said. “We helped each other and really played as a team. We never want to be in a one-on-one situation, we want to slow the ball. And tonight we fed off of an incredible crowd. Our fans came and were very enthusiastic. [Athletic Director] Ben Kirk handed out 1,800 tickets to our elementary and middle schools, so there’s a lot of credit to our fans for showing up. It was really fun to watch tonight.”
Starting the anticipated matchup between the two teams, Coal Ridge sophomore center Kevin DiMarco kicked things off with a tough layup in traffic to give the Titans the early lead, but Basalt junior guard Justin Henderson answered with a three-pointer to put the Longhorns on top, settling the game into a groove.
Following Henderson’s three, Coal Ridge senior forward Hunter Gerber went to work, hitting a tough shot in the paint while drawing the foul. The steady senior sank the ensuing free throw to put the Titans back on top 5-3 before a jumper from Basalt senior Pablo Rivera tied the game at 5-all.
Coal Ridge junior guard Brandon Herrera and Basalt junior guard Wylie Hawkins then traded buckets before DiMarco hit his second shot of the game to make it 9-7 Titans. But in the matchup within the game itself to watch, Basalt senior forward Michael Glen drilled a three-pointer over DiMarco from the corner to put the Longhorns on top 10-9 after one quarter of play.
Glen hit his second three-pointer of the game to start the second quarter to give the Longhorns their largest lead of the game at 13-9, but Coal Ridge fought back as buckets from junior guard Jan Hernandez and Herrera tied the game at 13-all.
DiMarco then got in on the action from beyond the arc, hitting a three-pointer over Glen to give the Titans a 16-13 lead, but Henderson then hit his second three-pointer of the game to tie it before giving the Longhorns a 19-16 lead following a jumper and the foul.
DiMarco answered right back, though, with another three-pointer to tie it before Hawkins hit a tough shot in the lane through contact. The junior guard missed the free throw, failing to complete the three-point play to put Basalt in front 21-19.
Following buckets from Glen and Herrera made it 23-21 Basalt, Gerber got a putback to fall before DiMarco split a pair of free throws to give the Titans a slim 24-23 lead at the half.
Coming out of the halftime break, the Titans appeared focused and got off to a fast start as Herrera hit a three-pointer and got a tough putback to fall, while sophomore forward Payton White added a slick reverse layup to push the Titans to a 31-23 lead early in the third.
Basalt then scored the next four points as Glen split a pair of free throws before connecting from beyond the arc for the third time on the night, but Gerber answered back with a tough driving layup through contact to give the Titans a 33-27 lead.
Glen and DiMarco then traded buckets at the rim before Rivera split a pair of free throws and hit a jumper to make it 35-32 Coal Ridge late in the third quarter. But once again, Herrera came up big on the night, splashing home a three-pointer to give the Titans a big 38-32 lead heading into the final quarter of play with a lot at stake.
In the fourth quarter, Henderson and Coal Ridge senior guard Martin Camunez traded three-pointers before DiMarco and Basalt senior guard Raul Torres traded buckets in the paint to keep the Titans in front, 43-37.
Following Torres’ bucket, Herrera hit another three-pointer, setting up a 6-2 run for the Titans as Gerber hit two free throws, while Hernandez picked up a steal and race in for the layup before Herrera found DiMarco under the hoop with a tremendous pass through traffic to make it 52-39 Titans, all but putting the game out of reach.
Despite a quick comeback effort by the Longhorns, Coal Ridge was able to seal the win at the line, going 6-for-8 at the charity stripe in the final minutes.
“Tonight was incredible,” Gerber said. “I wasn’t really nervous overall, but was worried a bit as a team because most of the team is so young and haven’t played in big games like this, but they played like veterans tonight. We stayed under control as a group, and it was just an amazing win for us.”
In the win, Herrera led the way with 19 points, while DiMarco and Gerber added 17 and 10 points for the Titans.
For the Longhorns, Glen finished with 19 points, while Henderson added 14 points.
As a sophomore taking on Glen, DiMarco more than held his own in the biggest game of the season to this point.
“I really wanted to play hard tonight and stay out of foul trouble,” DiMarco said. “I got a lot of help from my teammates, though, by them digging down on him in the post; they did and they really helped me out tonight against a good player. Offensively, we were just in a flow and in a rhythm, so it was nice to get some open looks.”
Coal Ridge will travel to Aspen Friday night, while Basalt will host Grand Valley.
Should the Titans win out in their next three league games, they’ll be regular season league champs for the second straight season. Just don’t expect them to overlook anyone the rest of the season.
“We have a wheel in the locker room with eight sections that we put together after the Moffat loss [back in December],” Harvey said. “We told the kids then that we needed to just run the table by taking it one game at a time. With each win we color in one piece of the pie; they’re all equal. One game isn’t bigger than the other, and the boys have bought in to it.”
BASALT 43, COAL RIDGE 27
Despite pulling to within 26-25 midway through the fourth quarter, the Coal Ridge Lady Titans couldn’t complete the comeback attempt against the visiting Basalt Lady Longhorns Tuesday night, as the Lady Longhorns went on a 17-2 run to close the game in impressive fashion, sending the Lady Titans to their sixth straight loss in a difficult season.
Early on the two teams traded buckets as Basalt held just a 16-13 lead at the half thanks to seven first-half points from Longhorn senior guard Carsyn Knotts and seven first-half points from Coal Ridge sophomore guard Kashley Morgan.
Tied late in the second quarter at 13-all, Basalt junior guard Kate Schrock connected on her first three-pointer of the game, giving the fans a sign of things to come in the second half.
Coming out of the break, Schrock started the second half on a personal 8-2 run as the junior connected on two three-pointers and two free throws sandwiched around a jumper from Coal Ridge junior guard Santana Martinez.
Coal Ridge closed the quarter on a 4-0 run, though, as sophomore guard Alyssa Wenzel hit a jumper and senior forward Jessica Feese got a tough putback shot to fall to pull the Titans to within 26-19 heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final eight minutes, Coal Ridge would pull to within 26-25 as junior guard Sam Dunn, Harlow and Morgan all got layups to fall, but from that point on in the game, Basalt erupted offensively, embarking on the 17-2 run to finish off the game.
In the run, Schrock hit two three-pointers from the left corner, while junior guard Nicole Alvarado got one layup to fall before stealing an inbound pass and hitting a layup again to make it 43-25.
Feese would stop the run and cap off the scoring in the game with a late putback.
In the loss, Morgan led the way with nine points for Coal Ridge (2-13, 0-6) while Harlow added five points for the Lady Titans. Dunn and Feese added four points each.
For Basalt (3-13, 1-5), Schrock led the with a game-high 17 points, while Alvarado and Knotts added 11 and seven points, respectively.
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