Vail Christian basketball beats Scorpions, 72-57
Saints meet Fowler in the Sweet 16
EDWARDS — The beard continues.
Vail Christian boys basketball knocked off Dolores Huerta Prep, 72-57, on Friday night at the Wheeler Athletics Center during the first round of the Class 2A Region 8 Tournament, advancing to today’s showdown at 1 p.m with Fowler with a bid in the Elite Eight on the line.
And that means that Vail Christian assistant coach J.C. Moritz keeps the playoff beard for another day.
“I love the beard,” said junior Alec Moritz, who helped keep his dad from shaving with 29 points. “I’m envious of the beard.”
In addition to the Vail Christian fan section whiteout, several students were sporting fake beards in the stands.
“No playoff beard,” joked Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns, who has the stubble of a goatee. “That’s all J.C.”
Vail Christian (17-6) got off to a nice start with a 17-8 first quarter, powered by three steals from Moritz, Alec, that is. Senior Tommy O’Neil was also emerging as a force on the glass. O’Neil finished the night with 11 points and 14 rebounds, nine of which were on the offensive end.
“Tommy was beast,” Kuhns said. “That was key for us in the first half.”
The hiccup came in the second period as the Scorpions (15-8) threw a matchup zone at Vail Christian. The Saints couldn’t get Zach McKeever to the high post. With Vail Christian not getting to the paint as often as it would like, the Saints didn’t have sustained possessions and let Dolores Huerta back into the game.
While the Scorpions closed it to 29-21 at the half, Saints junior Jamison Lee provided some spark by charging to the hole and drawing fouls. He went 4-for-4 from the line during the final minutes of the second quarter.
At halftime, the strategic wheels turned and Kuhns had McKeever start up high in the key and slash to the paint, and the Saints got moving.
“If we got Zack to the middle, that’s when the defense would breakdown,” Moritz said. “That’s when I got a couple of 3s on Zack’s passes.”
As if to illustrate the point, McKeever had no points during the first half and 17 during the second. (For those of you counting at home, McKeever finished with 17 points.)
Also, in the second half, Dolores Huerta briefly tried a press against Vail Christian. The Saints had a simple answer to that as McKeever threw long passes to a streaking Moritz for easy layups.
Home, sweet home
And that made for much merriment for the Saints, hosting regionals for the first time in school history. Most of the Vail Christian crowd was bedecked in white T-shirts made this week for the occasion.
“It’s all the things of playing at home — sleeping in your bed, playing on your home court, seeing all the white,” Kuhns said. “We’ve been going to the Front Range and all of the state for years. To be here is a lot of fun.”
By the fourth quarter, McKeever was going off, along with Moritz who inserted the dagger with a 3 with 5:19 left in the game for a 63-42 lead.
“It feels really good,” Mortiz said. “It’s also a feeling of having more work to do for tomorrow.”
Here comes Fowler
In the nightcap, Fowler tattooed Clear Creek, setting up today’s anticipated Sweet 16 matchup. The general consensus in the Vail Christian camp was that Friday night’s win was nice but more is needed for the Grizzlies (19-4).
“They’re going to be right up there with the best teams we’ve played all season,” Kuhns said. “From what we can tell, they’re a man-to-man team. They’re tall and long and really disciplined on offense and defense. We’re going to have to execute.”
Vail Christian watched Fowler’s game as a team preparing for today’s game.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.