Vail Christian Saints basketball falls at Byers, 69-59 |

Vail Christian Saints basketball falls at Byers, 69-59

Austria's Marcel Hirscher, center, winner of an alpine ski, men's World Cup giant slalom, poses with second placed Norway's Henrik Kristoffersen, left, and third placed France's Alexis Pinturault, in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

BYERS — It's cliche. It trite. It's even redundant.

Seasons generally don't end happily and Vail Christian boys basketball saw its 2017-18 end on the eastern plains in a 69-59 loss to No. 4 Byers in the Class 2A Region D Tournament finals on Saturday, March 3.

The Saints (18-6) gave as good as they got, leading Byers by two at the half before the host Bulldogs ran off a 20-8 fourth quarter. Vail Christian got within 61-58 with 1:38 left in the fourth quarter.

It's no shame to go out during the Sweet 16, but it still hurts, especially given how far the squad came this year. The Saints started the season as known offensive quantity — potent in the backcourt with Sebastian Moritz and Bryan Trujillo — but needed some size and defense.

spurts and fits

In spurts and fits, the Saints sharpened their defense with the return of Ethan Kuhns from a knee injury, the emergence of Zach McKeever as a post and Joseph Emmer as defensive specialist.

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"From the beginning of the year, the strides were made in maturity, the level of physical play and in discipline were huge," Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns said. "I told them before the game today that they play defense like a Western Slope team and offense like a Front Range team."

This one hurt more because the coach wanted one more week with this crew at the state tournament. It's not just that No. 00 is his son, but that this has been a special group. The Saints have always had great 3-point shooter, but have never had a backcourt like this one with Trujillo and Moritz both having the ability take over a game.

Ethan Kuhns, who's been a part of this program since he was in utero, finally got to play a major role with the team he's watched for his entire life. He did a lot of the dirty work in the paint. Meanwhile, McKeever, a junior, blew onto the scene putting up double-doubles regularly.

Emmer often drew the opposing team's top player as a defensive assignment, and contributed toward the team's late-season surge in that department.

"It obviously hurts to be one game short of the state tournament, but we had a fantastic season," Sheldon Kuhns said.

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, and @cfreud.