Alexis Ellsworth lifts Vail Christian to win
EDWARDS – With 6.7 seconds left and Thursday’s game tied at 34, Vail Christian’s Alexis Ellsworth and West Grand’s Hannah Howell both went for the inbound pass.
Ellsworth got position, appeared to have the steal and drew an over-the-back foul, and so the Saints junior went to the line with the game on the line.
“It’s practice, and I don’t want to run for missing my free throws,” Ellsworth said.
She sank the first, missed the second and when Howell’s last-second shot rimmed out the Saints came away with a white-knuckled 35-34 league win against the Mustangs.
“That was a ‘will’ win,” Saints coach Doug Bruce said. “Whatever it takes, we were going to win.”
The tape or DVD of this game will not go to the Basketball Hall of Fame, but it did move the Saints’ record to 6-5 overall and 1-3 in the 2A Slope. The big issues for Vail Christian were rebounding and getting the ball inside the paint, two things the Saints did not do in the first half and did much better in the second.
“We really talked about rebounding. It was killing us the first half,” Bruce said. “I don’t think we played really well. I’ve got to give some of that credit to West Grand. They did a nice job of their zone defense. We didn’t run the fast break because we didn’t rebound.”
Down 17-15 after the half, the Saints were still trailing, 23-19, after the third quarter, but they had set the stage. By pounding the ball inside, Vail Christian built a 6-1 advantage in the foul column and was a stellar 10-for-12 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
Free throws by McKenzie O’Brien and a jumper from Ashlyn Gruber tied it at 23. O’Brien knocked down two more freebies and Gruber showed off her signature baseline jumper for a 27-25 lead. Ellsworth and Tracy Salgado went 4-for-5 in a stretch from the line tying up the game at 32.
After a the possession arrow changed three times and West Grand coach Larry Banman made one of the most enthusiastic calls for a timeout in the history of basketball, Vail Christian’s Kylie Alexander jarred her shot with 37 seconds left to even it at 34.
That set up Ellsworth.
“I didn’t expect it to go that way, but it was good to get the win,” she said.
Saints boys fall short
OK, let’s get it out of the system – frigid, cold, bricks, icy, etc.
“We were a little cold tonight,” Vail Christian boys basketball coach Sheldon Kuhns said somewhat jokingly.
And despite all of that, Vail Christian made a game of it in a 61-58 loss Thursday to West Grand.
“It just snowballed tonight,” Kuhns said. “The shots weren’t going in, so we couldn’t get into our press, so they could slow the game down.”
The Saints would prefer the sequence of score, press, get the turnover and score some more. Instead West Grand played a half-court game, and built a 38-23 halftime lead.
The Mustangs also played in a man-to-man defense, instead of a zone, and that clearly knocked Vail Christian sophomore Robby Bowles off his game. He finished with just seven points, at which point everyone involved reminds themselves that the kid is still a sophomore, the sun will rise again and there will be better days for the young man.
Vail Christian got its first 3-pointer with 5:08 left in the third quarter from Granger Moch, another sign that the things just weren’t right for the Saints Thursday. But Moch and point-guard Fernando Hernandez were just getting started.
Hernandez ripped off nine-straight points in the fourth quarter on his way to 17. Moch (15 points) drilled two 3s, the second of which pulled the Saints to within 58-56 with 26.2 seconds to go.
“It was a ball game in the last minute and a half,” said Kuhns, whose team fell to 5-6. “That’s what you want to do. I told them, ‘No matter what, you want to put yourself in a position to win the game in the end.’ We did that. It was just we put ourselves in too big of a hole.”
Both sets of Saints host Plateau Valley Saturday. The girls start at 4 p.m., followed by the boys at 5:30 p.m.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.