Vail Christian earns gritty 50-44 win over Vail Mountain School in 2A District 5 semifinal
Saints move on to Saturday's district title game
After Tuesday’s win over Hayden, Vail Mountain School head coach Caleb Florence promised to throw everything he could at Vail Christian. He was true to his word. The No. 4-seeded Gore Rangers gave the Saints all they could handle in Friday’s 2A District 5 semifinal in De Beque, but in the end, it was the No. 1-seeded Vail Christian that emerged with a hard-fought 50-44 win.
“They had some guys step up. I mean it’s a rivalry game,” Saints head coach Sheldon Kuhns said after his team pulled out its 13th-straight win, the most ever in his tenure, and thus, the program’s history.
“We felt like we won the league, we were the one seed and in a good spot going into the tournament, but we were not pleased to get our in-valley rival in the Friday night game.”
The Gore Rangers showed a slightly tweaked rotation to their standard 2-3 zone, getting right in the face of the Saints’ leading scorer and sharpshooter, Quinn Downey. In the first half, Downey, who averages 22 points per game and drilled 12 3-pointers in a game earlier this month, had just one field goal — three points — in the first half.
“They really over-played him,” Kuhns said.
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Theo Moritz scored eight of his game-high 16 points in the first half, which ended with a 22-22 tie. Meanwhile, Tommy Steele and Mason Geller led the Gore Rangers in the first half, dropping seven and six, respectively. Geller would finish the game with a team-high 13 points.
In the third quarter, the Saints started feeding their posts and also made a key adjustment in hitting the backside guard whenever Vail Mountain continued to overplay Downey. Moritz benefited, drilling two 3-pointers and scoring eight more points as the Saints created a nine-point, 38-29 advantage going into the final period. Will Neumann also came alive for Vail Christian in the third, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the the second half.
“Once we made that adjustment, that was a big turning point in the game,” Kuhns said.
Still, it wasn’t enough for the Gore Rangers to go away. With 1:26 to go, the Saints clung to a six-point advantage, 48-42. A travel by Neumann gave the ball back to Vail Mountain and Christian Mills converted from close to make it 48-44 with just under a minute to go. The Gore Rangers were forced to foul, but when Quinn Downey missed the front end of a one and one, he gave the underdogs a chance to make it a one-possession contest.
A turnover brought things back the other way, however, and when Downey got back to the line with 29.5 seconds remaining, he sunk the first and missed the second. Jack Pryor scrapped for a huge offensive rebound off the miss, getting fouled in the proccess. Pryor also missed his front-end of the one-and-one, but this time, Andre Skweir was their to collect yet another critical offensive rebound.
“I think we made the last couple of minutes harder than we needed to, but I think that’s what makes this team special,” Kuhns said. “This team does whatever it takes. Alright we miss a freethrow? OK, we’ll get an offensive rebound. We miss again? We’ll get another offensive rebound.”
The Saints, now in the double bonus, continued to struggle from the line. Skweir missing both of his free throws, sending the ball back to Vail Christian. Gore Ranger guard Tommy Steele was fouled driving to the basket, but he couldn’t convert from the line either. All-in-all, missed shots from the charity stripe from both teams would serve to keep things close and run the clock out in the process.
“We’re a smart team and we know whatever needs to get done that particular possession and that particular night,” Kuhns continued. “Guys see it and they stop and make the plays on either end of the floor.”
The Saints will play the winner of Plateau Valley (15-3) and Rangley (12-8), which concluded after press time, in Saturday’s district championship game.
“Sometimes the hardest win in your playoff run is your first run,” Kuhns concluded. “It was good to get that one under our belt and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”