GYPSUM -Palisade boys basketball wrapped up the 4A Slope title Friday night, completing a season sweep of Eagle Valley with a 43-38 win in Gypsum.
The Bulldogs (11-2 in the league and 13-5 overall) were methodical, slowing the game down to a crawl to limit Eagle Valley's offensive opportunities.
"The conference championship would have been great to have," Devils coach Jim Bair said. "It would have been a great T-shirt to have. It would have been great for the community, but it's not a possibility. The kids are hurting now. I hurt, too. But what's important right now is seeding."
The coach is right in that the league title is not the be all and end all of the season in many respects. It's not hard to see these teams playing again at the conference tournament next weekend at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. The Maxpreps.com computer also is the determining factor in seeding for the 4A state tournament.
Eagle Valley's Noah Ejnes pulled the Devils into a 27-27 tie at the end of the third quarter. Palisade's Jesus Aguirre and Zach Marengo got two quick buckets, giving the Bulldogs a 31-27 lead with 7:09 left. Juan Baca responded with a 3 and Sam Boyd, who started in place of Ayren Hart, sunk two freebies and the Devils had the lead again at 32-31.
Aguirre had another lay-in and his Teammate Luke McLean dropped a 3-pointer to push Palisade ahead by four at 36-32 with 4:19 remaining.
After that, Palisade played keep-away. The Bulldogs just ate the clock, moving the ball around efficiently. Eagle Valley (13-5, 9-4) had to foul early and often to get Palisade to the line. Once the Bulldogs were in the bonus, they hit enough of their chances to ice the game.
"Teams that don't match up with us slow it down," Bair said. "That's their M.O. We probably play better fast, but we had plenty of opportunities to win. We just did not play well enough mentally, and, credit to Palisade, they capitalized on our mental mistakes."
Bulldogs make it a sweep
Eagle Valley girls basketball kept charging, but Palisade seemed to have an answer for everything Friday night in Gypsum.
The visiting Bulldogs came away with a 48-40 win, leaving life a little gloomy in the Devils camp.
"Basically, I was telling the girls that they looked like they were playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win," Devils coach Sam Bartlett said. "When you're playing not to lose, you're not playing with confidence."
Eagle Valley (8-5, 11-7) actually got off to a very good start in the second half. The Devils scored the first six points to take a 22-16 lead. After Madeline Lounsberry, Lauren Thorpe and Taylor Martin recorded buckets; Palisade's Aspen Guray had a nifty lay-in. Then the Bulldogs Cruz Maestas had a 3-point play and Palisade was within one at 24-23.
Of greater concern was that Eagle Valley was already on the wrong side of the bonus with 2:14 left in third quarter. Palisade's Jenna Brown sunk both ends of her 1-and-1, and Palisade (8-10, 7-6) had the lead for good at 25-24.
The Devils didn't go away though. Martin had a huge game for Eagle Valley with 14 points. Thorpe's running layup with 4:31 left in the fourth pulled the Devils to within 33-32 before Palisade's Ashlyn Brown buried a 3 to restore order.
"I think we got a lot of good looks," Bartlett said. "We just couldn't finish."
Both Devils teams don't have long to dwell on the losses. Steamboat Springs comes to town today with the girls starting at 2 p.m., followed by the boys at 3:30 p.m.