OLATHE — Live from Olathe, it’s Friday at districts.
The good news is the current edition of Vail Christian boys basketball remains blissfully ignorant of the horrors witnessed upon Saints past on this day at this tournament.
In fact, Vail Christian inflicted some heartbreak on Ouray by a count of 75-69, during the ever-critical District 1 Tournament semifinal, advancing to today’s final at 3:30 p.m. against Norwood and, more importantly, secured one of two regional berths at stake this weekend.
Friday at districts generally has been a concept that has sent Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns to the therapist’s couch. Because District 1 sends two teams to regionals, winning the final is nice — good for seeding in the regional round — but being one of the last two teams standing is the bigger victory. This is only second time Vail Christian has made the district final and assured itself of a regional berth.
The Saints won this during the fourth quarter with defense and ruthless free throw shooting. The stat of the game was that Vail Christian was 13-for-17 at the line during the fourth quarter, and Brandon Currey missed two free throws late after it had been decided.
Tied at 56, Ethan Pence knocked down two freebies. Tied again at 58, Currey knocked down both ends of his shots from the charity stripe. Tied at 60? Well, that was Ethan Ellsworth’s turn for two at the line, and both were good.
Cooper Gould gave Vail Christian a 64-62 with a layup with a little more than two minutes to play.
Ellsworth came up with a huge layup that turned into a Currey layup and a 66-62 Saints’ lead. Ouray’s Clay Zimmerman, who was on fire all evening with 24 points, mercifully missed his 3 attempt. Pence got the board and the foul. He went 3-for-4 in his ensuing trips to the foul line, and the Saints were up 69-64.
Lincoln Sackman of Ouray cut it to 69-66, but Ellsworth was right back at the other end of the court with a 3-point play. After Currey knocked down another free throw, Ellsworth was on the receiving end of an intentional foul and sank two more free throws for a 75-69 lead.
Ellsworth and Currey were the 1-2 offensive punch With 20 and 18 points, respectively. Parker Poage finished with 14.
The first half started well for the Saints, with a Poage 3, but Ouray’s Zimmerman replied in kind, a sign of things to come. Zimmerman had four 3s and 17 points in the first half alone.
Currey powered the Saints during that first quarter with bruising play in the paint, including two 3-point plays. Toss in a downtown shot from Pence, and the Saints were up by as much as 19-8 in opening eight minutes.
Zimmerman went off in the second quarter, scoring seven straight points in one stretch and then canning two more 3s in the second quarter. Ouray took the lead briefly at 34-33, but it was Ellsworth’s turn to have a run for Vail Christian.
Ellsworth had nine points alone during the second quarter as the Saints led 38-35 at the break.
In Vail Christian’s early years, the Saints always had the knack to play above their heads, only to lose in heart-breaking fashion to teams like Hayden, Crested Butte, DeBeque, Norwood and/or Ouray. Once Vail Christian got competitive as a program, the Saints still would lose in gut-wrenching fashion.
Vail Christian finally busted through “The Friday Jinx” during this past year with an emphatic, 60-29, win over Plateau Valley. Kuhns did not burst into a chorus of “Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead,” but the Saints danced their way to a 42-32 win over Norwood for a district championship on the way to a third-place finish in state this past season.
Vail Christian would happily take any form of a win over Norwood today.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 and firstname.lastname@example.org.