Titans upset by Tigers in heartbreaking fashion
In a classic high school basketball game that more than lived up to its advanced billing, the Sterling Tigers outlasted the Coal Ridge Titans, 61-59, in overtime Saturday afternoon in a regional finals game at Coal Ridge High School.
The action was fast-paced and tense from the get-go as Sterling showed its long range marksmanship early with the trio of Wade Kellogg, Carter Keil and forward Bodie Hume all hitting three-pointers to stake the Tigers to a 10-4 lead.
As they often do, the Titans came fighting back in a hurry as forward Kevin DiMarco scored on a jumper and a three-pointer, while guard Brandon Herrera got a couple of buckets of his own to fall through the hoop. Senior Hunter Gerber, playing his final game on the Coal Ridge home court, scored on a drive to the basket giving the Titans an 18-17 lead, forcing Sterling head coach Mike Holloway to call a timeout.
Junior guard Riley Schaefer scored for the Tigers to start the second period, but that was quickly answered by the Titans’ Payton White as he scored going to the basket over several outstretched arms of Sterling defenders. After Coal Ridge’s Jan Hernandez scored on a nice baseline feed from Gerber, it was DiMarco and sophomore Aaron Arreola hitting three-pointers to give the Titans their biggest lead of the game, 28-23.
Sterling wouldn’t let the Titans get away though, as Schaefer hit from long range to culminate a mini run for the Tigers as the game stood 32-31 in favor of Coal Ridge at the half.
It looked as though the game may turn in favor of the Tigers in the third period as the visitors out-scored Coal Ridge 11-4 during that 8 minute span. The Titans did answer a quick back-door cut score by Hume with a basket from Gerber and two free throws from DiMarco, but the Tigers closed out the quarter on a 7-0 run, capped by two foul shots from Hume, for a 42-36 Sterling lead.
A three-pointer from Herrera to start the deciding frame seemed to rattle the Tigers a bit as they came down the court on the ensuing possession and promptly tossed the ball out of bounds. Gerber then got the ball and shaked one way, then baked the other to the hoop for a key Titan basket. White put the Titans up 45-44 as he scored on a baseline drive with 4:54 left in regulation before Herrera scored on a quick spin move to put Coal Ridge up 47-44, and suddenly the chips were looking to be falling in favor of the Titans.
But the game continued to follow its topsy-turvy script as Keil and Hume brought the Tigers roaring back with consecutive three-pointers to give the lead to Sterling at 50-47, forcing veteran Coal Ridge coach Paul Harvey to take a timeout to settle his boys.
The last 2:50 of the game can only be described as frenzied and heart-stopping. After the Tigers had run the clock down to 1:13, Hume made one of two free throws to put Sterling up 51-47. Gerber, playing his heart out to continue his career one more week, gave a head fake and scored on a drive to the basket, inching the Titans closer at 51-49.
With Sterling playing keep away to salt the clock, Coal Ridge was forced to foul Schaefer, who only connected on one of two foul shot attempts. With 42.3 seconds left to play, and his team trailing 52-49, Hernandez launched a rainbow three-pointer from deep in the left corner that found nothing but the bottom of the net as the Titans had tied things at 52.
Following a Sterling timeout, Coal Ridge fouled the Tigers’ Kellogg with 36.7 seconds to go. When the Sterling guard missed both ends of the double bonus and the Titans secured the rebound, the home team would have the final opportunity for points before the clock ticked away.
It wasn’t to be though, as Coal Ridge ran a spread for Gerber, but the stellar senior forward got bottled up by a stingy Sterling defense near the baseline, and time expired as the ball was tipped away on a centering pass, and both teams, along with an emotionally drained gymnasium of onlookers headed to overtime.
DiMarco was able to sandwich a basket for Coal Ridge between a basket from Hume and a three-pointer from Kellogg, as Sterling led in overtime 57-54 with 2:36 left to play. The Titans missed several three-point attempts as time became an obstacle as well as the Tigers. Sterling wasn’t able to handle prosperity though, as the Tigers turned the ball over on their next three possessions, keeping the Coal Ridge hopes alive.
Following a Sterling free throw by Schaefer, Arreola hit a three-pointer to bring the Titans within 58-57. Gerber hit a basket on a drive, but two free throws by Keil and one by Schaefer had the Titans in possession of the basketball with 6.5 seconds to play and trailing 61-59.
Arreola had a distant look at a three-pointer, but it just missed as the final buzzer sounded, sending Sterling to next week’s quarterfinal round at the University of Denver.
Following the game, Coal Ridge’s Harvey had nothing but high praise for his team.
“I just want to thank the seniors (Gerber, Martin Camunez, Eziel Ruiz, Connor Tooker) for their hard work and dedication,” Harvey said. “They are a big part of turning this program around. These seniors have left our program in a much better state. They played the game and did things the right way.”
Despite the disappointment of ending his career, Gerber echoed much the same sentiments as his coach.
“It’s hard now, but these past four years have meant a lot,” Gerber said. “This program did a lot for all of us.”
The Titans, Western Slope League champions, ended the season at 18-6.
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Amid hundreds of cleat-footed little leaguers casually gathered along the first baseline, the glare of parents’ sunglasses deflecting the early morning sun, coach Troy Phillips began a trip down memory lane.