Titans top Longhorns, win district title
For the first time in program history, the Coal Ridge Titans boys basketball team swept the 3A Western Slope League season championships, capping off a strong regular season with a 57-55 win over the Basalt Longhorns Saturday afternoon at Grand Junction Central High School in the district tournament championship game.
The Titans allowed the Longhorns to battle to within one point, nearly blowing a 12-point lead, but a last-second three-point attempt from Basalt senior forward Miles Levy clanged off the back iron just before the buzzer to give the Titans the tough 57-55 win, allowing Titan supporters to breathe a sigh of relief after a nerve-racking final two minutes.
“I was a little bit nervous, but we’ve been there before in these types of situations,” Coal Ridge Head Coach Paul Harvey said. “But you know, we just believed that if we worked hard enough on defense that we could make a couple of plays. We’ll use it as a learning experience, and hopefully if we’re in that situation again we know that we don’t need to shoot the ball in that situation. But you know, Jan [Hernandez] did a good job of redeeming himself after missing the three by hitting a free throw, and Payton [White] hit a big throw, so it was a team win.”
Against the Longhorns, Coal Ridge would fall behind early 7-0 before battling back in the first quarter to take a 14-13 lead after eight minutes of play, thanks to a great start from senior forward Hunter Gerber, who poured in nine first-quarter points to pace the Titan attack.
“I didn’t want to lose this game,” Gerber said. “That’s the mentality I had coming into the game that I wasn’t coming here to lose anymore. So I guess I was just sort of in that zone.”
Coming into the game, Gerber sat just 13 points away from breaking the Coal Ridge school record for points in a career (1,141). The terrific senior would eclipse the mark in the second quarter, hitting two free throws to give the Titans a 21-17 lead.
On the night, Gerber would lead the way with 17 points, giving the Titans their first district tournament championship while setting a new school record with 1,146 points in his career. Gerber still has at least one more game in his Coal Ridge career to build on the mark.
“That was awesome, it was the perfect scenario for me,” Gerber said. “The team win definitely means more though. What I told the guys in the locker room was that it was a big accomplishment for me and I’ll remember it, but that this win means more to me and it’s something I’ll definitely remember because of how cool it’s been to play with this team throughout the year. We’re making history as a team.”
With Gerber playing a big role in the first half, things opened up offensively for the Titans as Hernandez and sophomore forward Kevin DiMarco hit tough shots in the paint, keeping the Titans in front of the Longhorns.
Following DiMarco’s jumper, junior guard Brandon Herrera would hit his first three-pointer of the game before Hernandez would hit a tough, driving layup along the baseline to give the Titans a 32-27 lead at the half.
Coming out of the break, the Titans would stay hot as White would hit a twisting shot in the paint before Basalt senior Michael Glen would counter with two jumpers to pull the Longhorns to within 34-31.
White would then answer with a cutting layup off of a great feed from Gerber to make it 36-31 Titans before Herrera would then knock down two straight three-pointers to stretch the Coal Ridge lead to its biggest of the game, 42-31.
Holding a big lead, it appeared as though the Titans would cruise to the title, closing out the third quarter up 45-38.
But things would get interesting in the fourth quarter.
Herrera would start out the final quarter of play with a driving layup before Basalt junior guard Justin Henderson would split a pair of free throws to make it 47-39. DiMarco and Hernandez would then hit buckets for the Titans to make it 51-39 before Glen would answer with a layup and the foul, pulling the Longhorns back to within nine, 51-42.
Following Glen’s three-point play, Gerber would hit a jumper, but Basalt senior Wade Soho would knock down a midrange jumper to keep things even in the quarter.
After a nifty driving layup from Coal Ridge sophomore guard Aaron Arreola made it 55-44 Titans, the Longhorns would begin their comeback attempt, embarking on an 8-0 run behind buckets from Henderson and Levy and a three-pointer and layup from Glen to close to within two, 55-53.
By mounting the comeback, Basalt forced Coal Ridge to try and clinch the win at the line, leading to White’s free throw following a big offensive rebound and a split of free throws by Hernandez, leading to the missed three-pointer by Levy right before the buzzer.
The win in the district tournament avenges the Titans’ loss last season in the tournament final where they were upset by the Grand Valley Cardinals.
“I’m extremely proud of these guys,” Harvey said. “They put in so much work starting last April, we went to Boulder, melted in Lawrence, Kansas and did summer league workouts. This is a testament to the guys working hard, parents supporting us, our fans, student body and administrators too. This is a cool win for Coal Ridge because the whole school turns out to support us. They’ve earned it.”
In the win, Gerber finished with 17 points, while Herrera and Hernandez added 15 and 12 points, respectively.
Glen lead the way for Basalt in the loss with 27 points.
Both Coal Ridge and Basalt will await its fate in the 3A state playoffs with seedings scheduled to be announced this afternoon.
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Coal Ridge 69, Grand Junction Central 23