EDWARDS - Someone finally made a free throw.
And the good news for Vail Christian boys basketball was that it was Robby Bowles on the line twice with in the final 31.5 seconds of Saturday's game against Soroco at the Wheeler Athletic Center in Edwards.
On a day of atrocious free-throw shooting - before Bowles went to the line the Saints were 8-for-22 from the stripe - the senior knocked all four shots as the Saints hung on to a 51-45 win against the Rams.
"I could hear Nigel (Johnsen) saying, 'Just like practice,'" Bowles said. "We shoot free throws together in practice."
With Bowles' shots on the mark, the Saints bounced back from a tough loss at Hayden Friday night and raised their 2A Slope record to 3-1 and overall mark to 8-3.
Vail Christian coach Sheldon Kuhns' first remark in postgame was simply to wipe his brow.
The Saints and Rams ran and ran in the first half, and the second 16 minutes was a physical, half-court game that nearly blew the roof off the Wheeler Athletic Center. The result, while not pretty, may pay dividends down the road for Vail Christian.
"Credit to Soroco," Kuhns said. "They slowed us down. But the thing to remember is that, as this team progresses, we have not won a possession-style game. If we're running, we're fine. The guys stepped up and played defense and rebounded. That's the key. When we've lost at districts, it's been in slugfests, and we've been a bucket short."
If you think that Kuhns and the Saints have the district tournament on the collective brain, it's because that's 800-pound gorilla in the room. Vail Christian has never advanced past the second round of the that tourney, always losing on a Friday, one win short of regionals and possible berth in state.
"We've talked about our goals," Bowles said. "League is important, but getting to state is the goal. We've got to let go of tough losses and be able to come back if we're going to get to our goal."
The Saints led 42-35 going into the final eight minutes, but Soroco, without the services of Nic Paxton (flu), who has tortured Vail Christian in numerous sports, charged back to tie the game at 45 with 1:34 left in regulation. Meanwhile, the Saints were clanking free throws all over the place.
"Last Saturday (against Plateau Valley), we were 9-for-10 from line. We are a good free-throw shooting team," Kuhns said. "It one of those unexplainable things in high school sports."
But with the game tied, Saints guard Austin Ellsworth drove the lane and flicked an unbelievable layup on the run for a 47-45 lead with 54 seconds to go. That shot proved to be the game-winner.
In other housekeeping for the Saints, Bowles' layup at the end of the first half pushed him to 1,000 career points for Vail Christian. Jaryd Francis, Class of 2008, still holds the school record with 1,260.
The Saints host DeBeque Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Lady Saints, fall
The Vail Christian girls basketball team lost its third game in four outings Saturday afternoon, bowing to Soroco, 46-37, but panic has not hit the Saints yet.
The first reason the sky is not falling is that Vail Christian is not healthy. Already short-handed in the guard department, the Saints are without Taylor Alexander, who is coming back from a concussion, the latest in a rash of injuries.
"At some point this year, we're going to have our whole team out on the floor," Saints coach Doug Bruce said. "We really haven't had that all year in 11 games. But I think everyone's going through that. ... I think we played better tonight that we did last night."
And the offense is showing signs of life. If you haven't head of Bruce's Rule of 40 - score 40 and keep opponents under that figure - the Saints are getting closer on the first part of that edict.
"The fact that we scored 37 is evidence we're headed in the right direction," Bruce said. "We even tried to slow down the game, and we still scored 37."
Paris Baker had a big game for Vail Christian (6-5, 0-3) with 16 points.
The Saints are at Paonia Friday night.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.