Graef steals Skiers’ confidence in rout
EDWARDS – Vail Christian boys basketball coach Sheldon Kuhns didn’t ask for anything for his birthday Friday.He got a nice gift anyway from his Saints team – a 59-30 drubbing over the Aspen junior varsity team in Vail Christian’s first game following the holiday break.”This is a great birthday present,” said Kuhns, who was serenaded during a first-half timeout with “Happy Birthday.” “I was waiting for a win tonight. We also played this game for Josh Sibley. He’s our starting center, who’s out. He just had surgery, so we wanted to win one for him. We were playing for him and my birthday.”
Senior forward Jamie Graef was the Saint who took the most pride in giving his coach a resounding win. Behind 11 first-half steals, Graef pushed the Saints out to a 33-17 lead at the half.The senior used his long arms to pick off passes from the undersized Skiers and then led the way in transition – either driving to the basket himself or drawing in defenders before dishing to an open teammate. Graef could tell that Aspen was frustrated from the get-go after his team blew open an 8-5 game with a 23-3 run. Aspen had one free throw to open the second quarter but was otherwise lifeless offensively for the next six minutes as the Saints exploded for 14 unanswered points to push the lead to 31-8.”After we had about five turnovers and started making layups and making stuff happen it made it easier for us because they didn’t have much confidence,” Graef said. “We always have a height advantage, which is great. I had a lot of hopes for tonight just coming out and seeing how small these guys were and how much of an advantage we had.”
Added Kuhns, “This is a good 3-point shooting team, but you couldn’t tell tonight because they couldn’t get open looks. (Jamie) really keyed us on offense and defense. He was our spark plug tonight. On defense, he did a great job trapping in our 3-2. On offense, we just run everything through him. He doesn’t get all the baskets, but he’s the one guy on our team that has the ability to dribble, drive, get a piece of the paint and dump it off to our big guys down low.”Early on, the Saints’ two post players, Jaryd Francis and Caleb Pearson, were having a difficult time cashing in on easy layins. But in the second half, with the team in cruise control, both big men became more consistent offensively. Pearson finished with 11 points while Francis chipped in with 10. Saints junior forward Jonathan Armstead also had a productive night, tallying 14 points total – four of which came off free throws – as well as dishing out four assists. Graef was overshadowed by none. The senior was the leading scorer with 19 points and finished with five assists and 15 steals.
“I’m probably more proud of my defense,” Graef said. “Exploding and doing stuff like that. My offense is off and on. Some days are good. … Or I’d say some halves are good. I have good halves and bad ones.”The Saints (4-2) open their 1A Mountain League slate today at home at St. Claire against Ridgway at 3:30 p.m. Kuhns said Friday’s night’s game was a good tune-up for what will be a much better opponent.”This is a great warm-up game,” he said. “That’s a big game for us. We’re very happy with the way we played tonight, and we’re hoping to carry this into tomorrow.”Staff Writer Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or email@example.com.