Branden Vigil sparks late rally as Devils boys defeat Tigers in thriller
Eagle Valley boys lean on depth to overcome 15-point first half deficit
A lot of basketball coaches idealistically preach resiliency and unselfishness, but only a few actually witness either in a game. Trailing 31-16 to the visiting Grand Junction Tigers late in the second quarter Tuesday night, Eagle Valley coach Justin Brandt was about to see if his club possessed at least one of those attributes. When his best shooter was held scoreless in the opening quarter, mounting a comeback was sure to require both toughness and teamwork.
“They were a good team,” Eagle Valley junior Nikko Von Stralendorff complimented of the chippy opponents who went 4-of-4 on 3-pointers in the first half to build the early lead. Gifted with size and spring, the guard’s knack for creating high percentage looks from anywhere make him the Eagle River Valley’s best Kevin Durant impersonator. Struggling with his stroke early, though, he had no qualms about sharing the ball.
“I know if I’m not knocking down my shots, my team will,” he said.
“I have full confidence in my team. If I’m hitting, I know they’re going to give me the ball. And if we got somebody like Bryan or Vigil or Lobos (Branden Villalobos) — really just go down the roster — we’re going to just create for each other.”
A 9-0 run to close the half brought Eagle Valley within seven to start the third. Tiger junior Andon Tow pumped the Eagle fan section’s brakes with an old-fashioned 3-point play in the opening minute. Devil guard Max Jaramillo responded with a hard left-handed drive, ignoring the defender riding his hip and the predictable collision at the rim to softly lay it in. A possession later, Eric Hasley hustled for a wayward offensive rebound, touch-passing from mid-air to Bryan Martinez under the hoop. The layup made it 34-33 in favor of the Tigers, but the crowd sensed a shift in momentum.
“I think our depth helps,” Brandt said in analyzing the turning point.
“We had some mistakes early because some of our best players were not playing to their best. But, we’re a deep enough team that we’re like ‘OK, next man up, let’s keep going,’ and they celebrate him. It’s not like, ‘Oh, he’s taking my minutes.’”
The next man to step up was Branden Vigil, who finished with 17 points. His deep 3-pointer gave the home team their first lead since roughly the last time Interstate 70 had been clear for driving. Thirty seconds later, a Vigil steal and layup in the backcourt increased the lead to three. Dillon Chapman responded for the Tigers, but Max Jaramillo drilled a 3-pointer of his own to keep the crowd roaring.
“When you have a kid like Max Jaramillo — he didn’t start this game, he came off the bench — and he was maybe our best player tonight,” coach Justin Brandt said about the junior guard who keyed the surge alongside Vigil and finished with nine points.
While the heightened atmosphere affected the Tigers, the Devils remained composed.
“I loved how they were just focused on the next play,” Brandt said about his players’ mental fortitude in crunch time. “I was proud of that.”
Tiger guard Wonde Yao-Clay escaped the Devils’ pressure to knot things up at 48 with 1:30 to go. Von Stralendorff’s 3-point play off of an offensive rebound put the Devils up 51-48.
Branden Escudero made two clutch free throws with 47.7 seconds remaining. Then, Dillon Chapman drained a 3-pointer over Von Stralendorff to make it 53-51. Fouled immediately, Von Stralendorff converted half of his one-and-one to make it 54-51 with 22.7 to go. Yao-Clay diced up the Devil defense again, going coast-to-coast for a quick score.
Though Jaramillo went 1-for-2 from the line to follow, the game wasn’t over until Escudero poked the ball away from Yao-Clay as time expired.
“I thought it was a great win,” Von Stralendorff said about the team win. “I think that just defines us. That was the maturity step we took from last year to this year. Now we’re playing as a team.”
“A mantra I love is ‘Things that are praised get repeated,’” Brandt said.
He’ll probably praise the teamwork and toughness his players showed Tuesday night.
Of course, preaching them is one thing. Seeing both is another.