Eagle Valley girls basketball defeats Battle Mountain 43-36 to complete season sweep of rivals
Fitzsimmons scores 15 to lead Devils, who improve to 8-9 with league showdown against Glenwood Springs on Thursday
Fans love clutch plays, flashy ball-handling and streaky 3-point shooting. At Monday’s rematch between Eagle Valley and Battle Mountain, the storyline seemed to be something more humble: defense and free throw shooting.
The Devils went 15-for-26 as a team from the charity stripe, and always seemed to get to the line when their lead — which they held from their 4-2 start all the way to the 43-36 final — seemed to shrink.
“All we were really trying to do was attack the basket,” said head coach Vinny Cisneros, whose team improved to 8-9 with its second win of the season over their up valley rivals.
“We knew it was going to be physical game, we knew that there was going to be a lot of fouls called, so when we kind of understood how the refs were going to call the game, we wanted to create driving lanes and get to the basket.”
Call it nerves, call it youth — whatever it was, both teams struggled to let the flow of their respective offenses create any high-percentage shooting windows, resulting in a low-scoring first half.
Support Local Journalism
“It definitely felt like there weren’t a lot of good looks,” said Battle Mountain coach Dan Caballero. “Being a rival, they definitely did a good job of scouting us and we knew what they were going to do as well.”
It was 9-7 Devils after one quarter and it took until a free throw from C.J. Yurcak with 3:23 remaining in the second quarter for the score to change.
“It was a frustrating game offensively,” Cisneros said. “We kind of got stagnant on one side, only looking for one or two options. We just need to do a better job of executing our full offense on both sides of the floor and being patient until something opens up.”
“We knew it was going to be a defensive battle,” Caballero added. “We had a good game plan coming in putting Elle (Glendining) and Izzy (Zastrow) on Josie Fitzsimmons, and they pretty much limited her most of the game. She picked up free throws in the fourth quarter, but we knew if we could limit her offensive ability to create shots for them, we’d be in a pretty good spot.”
A flurry of scores between the team’s opposing 100-meter dash speedsters Kiki Hancock and Zakia Shreeve in the final minute made it 14-9 at the half. In the third quarter, the Devils tried to jumpstart their offense via defense, throwing a slightly tweaked full-court trap defense on the Huskies. When Cedar Fitzsimmons’ floater off a turnover dropped through, it signaled the largest lead of the game — 20-11. It looked like Eagle Valley had found a weakness, but the Huskies responded with a textbook press break seconds later.
“The first game it was really all about our defensive pressure; we were able to create live-ball turnovers which helped us build a lead. We couldn’t do that tonight,” Cisneros said. “They did a really good job of adjusting to our pressure. It created some offense, but not enough.”
Elle Glendining got the ball on the Devils free throw line and found a streaking Hancock along the far sideline. The guard whipped it across court to Hailey Grant, who made the layup and was fouled. The play was emblematic of Battle Mountain’s fight throughout — whenever the Devils seemed ready to pull away, someone made a big play.
“They’re a well-coached team and we’re coming in with a little bit of youth and inexperience and so I’m proud of the fact that we fought back,” Caballero said.
“They went on a couple of runs where it felt like they were going to run away with it and my girls clamped down on defense and fought back and got one stop at a time and came down and executed.”
As the game’s energy continued to crescendo, both teams’ top scorers came alive. Hancock used her speed, strength and court vision to score four of her own and dish out a couple more. Josie Fitzsimmons dropped five for Eagle Valley to lead her team to a 29-21 advantage heading into the final period.
“As the game wore on and teams got slower defensively with the footwork, things definitely started to open up,” Caballero said.
Hancock, who would tally 12 points to lead her team, started the fourth by driving and dishing to a wide-open captain Cassidy Kurt. Kurt nailed the 3-pointer, once again breathing life into the Huskies. Later, Hancock stole the ball off a missed Grant free throw and put it home to reach double-digits and pull her squad to within three, 30-27.
The Devils built back a lead thanks to pure free throw shooting from both Fitzsimmons and C.J. Yurcak, who went 5-for-6 from the line for seven points herself. With 2:49 remaining, Glendining, who wound up with eight points, escaped on a backdoor to make it 36-31, and with 45.8 seconds, she stole the inbounds and got to the line, converting on one to make it 39-34. After Alyssa Jones missed on both free throw attempts, Glendining went coast to coast and converted on a fastbreak layup to make it 39-36 with 33.7 seconds remaining.
“Elle and Kiki are extremely special athletes. Elle is quick — once she hits the glass, she just kind of explodes out of the smoke there,” Caballero said. “It’s awesome to see them succeed and they work so hard, so super proud to see that pay off.”
The game was iced by, yes, free throws. Shreeve, Yurcak and Fitzsimmons kept the Huskies from getting any closer and the buzzer eventually sounded, dropping the Huskies to 4-12 on the year.
“The biggest takeaway is that we’re 3-0 in the league and we’re going into Thursday’s matchup with Glenwood that has huge implications on the league title,” Cisneros concluded. “So, regardless of if it was ugly or not, we needed the win to keep pace with Glenwood and now we’ve put ourselves in position to compete for a league championship, which is something our program has never accomplished.”