Huskies fall short in Sweet 16
GRAND JUNCTION Battle Mountain’s fans chanted, “We believe, we believe,” at the end of the Huskies’ Bill Weimar Region semifinal against Evergreen at Mesa State in Grand Junction Thursday night.It was almost enough to help Battle Mountain pull off the comeback. The Huskies, who trailed for most of the evening, furiously battled back in the closing seconds only to have Derek Rush’s last-second 3 clank of the rim in the waning seconds of a 53-50 season-ending loss.The “We believe” chant was an appropriate finale to Battle Mountain’s season. Who would have believed that Battle Mountain would be shedding tears of disappointment after a 21-3 season, which ended in the Sweet 16? That was the exact message Battle Mountain coach Phil Tronsrue and company were trying to remember after the game.”Years, days, months, somewhere down the line, a lot of people are going to be saying 21-3, league champions,” the coach said. “They’re going to see their name up on that banner, and there’s not another boys’ basketball team with their name up on that banner. They have to be proud of it.”
“I told the guys when we got into the huddle to think about all the good things we did all year, how everybody’s going to remember that this was the first time Battle Mountain won league, how we outhustled everybody, how we never gave up,” Rush said. “We always have to think about the positive.””It’s really tough. Yeah, we had a great year, but it shouldn’t have ended,” Connor Drumm said. “We’re the first team to win league. There’s a bunch of great things to come out of this.”Thursday night was simply not Battle Mountain’s night. Evergreen pressured the Huskies out of their offensive flow, outmanned Battle Mountain on the boards despite being the smaller team and got the shots to fall when it needed.”That’s a great win for us. A huge win for us because Battle Mountain is a very good team,” Cougars coach Scott Haebe said. “We knew coming in that we’d have to play extremely well to beat them. We did a great job defensively.”
PressedBattle Mountain struggled early against Evergreen’s full-court press. The Cougars produced four turnovers off the press for an early 8-0 lead. Rush rallied the Huskies with two 3s, including a four-point play with 3:46 left in the first quarter.Drumm’s 6-foot jumper with 33 seconds remaining in the opening period gave the Huskies their only lead of the game at 11-10.In the second quarter, Battle Mountain got more into a flow, but Evergreen dominated the boards especially on the offensive end and rode out to a 27-22 halftime lead. “We talked about how that was ridiculous that a team we out-man in height had eight offensive rebounds in the first half, and they probably had a little more than that,” Tronsrue said. “We made the adjustment, and did what we had to do, but the first half was key.”
The Cougars’ Charlie Blackstock poured in a 3 early in the second to give his team a 16-11 lead. A Drumm layup and two from the line from Trent Beckley pulled the Huskies within 19-17.Another 3 this time from Evergreen’s Joe Beaudin gave the Cougars their biggest lead of the half at 24-17. The half ended with Herbert answering a Beckley layin.”We emphasized it all week,” Haebe said. “The big kids (Drumm and Beckley) were their two best players. That’s something we emphasized all week, putting a little pressure on their perimeter guys so they wouldn’t get good looks and then doing as much as we can on the boards.” No quit
Battle Mountain chipped away at the Cougars’ lead playing its style of basketball pounding it in to the Twin Towers. Beckley and Drumm started the second half with inside jumpers. A three-point play from Beckley, who had a game-high 21 points, tied it at 29 midway through the third.Drumm, who finished a magnificent season and basketball career at Battle Mountain with 14 points, pulled the Huskies into a 36-36 tie with 6:29 to go in the game. But that was as close as the Huskies would get.Evergreen’s vaunted 3-ball game didn’t go off, but the Cougars did enough damage with jumpers inside the arc to get the job done.”The offense we run is based on Princeton principles,” Haebe said. “You take what they give you.”Two free throws from Evergreen’s Armand Esmaili put the Cougars ahead, 49-42, with 1:34 left. Beckley responded in kind, and Josh Ruark followed with a layup, pulling the Huskies to 52-47.
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Down 53-47, Rush gave the Huskies’ faithful something in which to believe with a 3 with 6.2 seconds. Esmaili missed both of his freebies, giving Battle Mountain a last chance. The Huskies hurried the ball down the court to Rush whose last valiant 3 attempt was off the mark, sending Battle Mountain home, and Evergreen into the Elite Eight against Greeley Central, which upset the region’s top seed, D’Evelyn, 54-50, in double overtime. “I just tried to never give up,” Rush said. “Our game plan was to give it down low. It came down in the end where I had to jack up a few. The first one fell which gave us hope, and the next one just couldn’t fall unfortunately.” A warm welcomeThe Huskies’ locker room was understandably filled with tears. Ten seniors – Kyle Leffler, Ruark, Kenny Brodin, T.J. Montoya, Gustavo Bronfield, Drumm, Rush, Beckley, Joe Ortega and Clark Simmons – made their final appearances for the Huskies.
But this senior class took Battle Mountain boys basketball from 3-19 its freshman year to 22-3 in 2005-06. And Battle Mountain’s whiteout crowd cheered each of the Huskies as they emerged from the locker room.”It capped off the season,” Rush said. “They’ve been with us the whole year. There have been kids who have come with us to every away game. They stuck with us. They won that league championship with us.””We talked about how we kept on fighting to the end and we played with some heart,” Tronsrue said. “We didn’t get some things our way. Some shots didn’t go down. We made some mistakes. We turned the ball over. We weren’t crisp, but we still had a chance at the end.” Vail Daily Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-949-0555, ext. 14630, or via email@example.com.Vail, Colorado