Late Preps: More on Devils-Huskies |

Late Preps: More on Devils-Huskies

GYPSUM – OK, on the scoreboard, the Eagle Valley boys basketball team beat Battle Mountain by a clean knockout, 75-40 on Tuesday night.

But what’s telling is that talking to both coaches after the game, it really did feel like a split decision with both coaches lamenting what could have been done better and what their squads need to do in the second half of the league season.

We start with the winning Devils. Eagle Valley didn’t put Battle Mountain down for the count early.

“To be honest, I thought we responded pretty poorly,” Devils coach Brent McConaghy said. “We responded to the crowd a little more than we have all season and we responded to things we normally don’t do. We got out of executing and got out of our press and what we do well. That allowed them to get back in reach.”

Certainly give credit to the Huskies for a bit of that. They’re undermanned, but they did throw the kitchen sink at the Devils. It’s also the nature of this rivalry – with emotions running so high on both sides – that these games are rarely works of art by both teams. (There’s a difference between well-played and exciting, people.)

These disclaimers aside, McConaghy has a very valid point in his critique of his team. The Devils are having an outstanding season at 11-4 overall and 5-1 in the 4A Slope. But it will get a lot more difficult the second time through the circuit.

This is not just the coach trying to pump his players up. Each game presents a different challenge. Here we go:

• Delta, road, Friday: A team that plays at Eagle Valley’s pace, and thus a different look.

• Palisade, home, Saturday: The Bulldogs handed the Devils their only league loss. (PLEASE NOTE THE TIME CHANGE: Girls at 2 p.m., followed by the boys at 3:30.)

• Moffat, home Feb. 3: Classic lu-lu game because Eagle Valley’s at Steamboat the next day.

• Steamboat, away, Feb. 4: The Devils won by 20-plus in Gypsum, but at Steamboat’s a different game.

• Battle Mountain, away, Feb. 10: A win would make Battle Mountain’s season.

• Glenwood Springs, away, Feb. 17: The Devils lost here in December and, like Steamboat, this is a tough place to play.

“It’s not getting caught up in the moment,” McConaghy said. “Tonight is the best learning experience we could have of getting the best shot from a team and getting caught in the moment. When you get caught in the moment, bad things happen.”

• A key factor in this Eagle Valley win: Depth. The Devils have it. I counted 11 different players chipping in in different ways Tuesday night. (Yes, I know everyone played, but not many rosters go this deep.) It’s players like Jordon Hudspeth and Reece Ellsworth, who don’t score much, but when they come in, they reestablish defensive tempo. It’s a guy Like Daniel Vargas, who I thought did a great job of throwing his body around in the paint Tuesday.) These are little things, but, put together, equal big things.

• Being this deep has also helped point-guard Juan Baca get healthy. (First, apologies to Juan for putting two C’s in his last name in the print edition. I have to type way too fast when games run late. Second, way to go, Jimmy Pritchard and Tim Wells, for filling in there.) BaCa had five 3s Tuesday night.

“That felt good,” Baca said. “I felt like I was stroking it. I don’t know. I just kept hitting them.”

And read this quote.

“We’ve got Delta and Palisade coming up and they’re both good teams,” Baca said. “We’ve just got to step up defensively.”

Did you catch what he said right? Yes, there’s the proper homage to future opponents. But this is a kid who can light it up offensively, and he started talking defense immediately. Perfect, kid.

• For the Huskies, this is tough. There’s no question they’re working. Two weeks ago, they looked horrible in a win against Summit County. I didn’t think they would win another game this season. They will.

“The effort was there. I give my kids credit,” Huskies coach Tom Padilla said. “It’s just the execution. We got within six points because we were executing, and then we got away from it. That’s going to happen with a young team. As a team we’re getting better. The kids have to learn they have to step up at the right time.”

The translation of coach-speak is “We’re young and we’re going to make mistakes, but we can’t keep repeating those mistakes.”

• To that end, Chris Duran is back. Good to see No. 3. And Padilla said that big-man Jimmy O’Rourke could return for Steamboat on Feb. 3. This should help because teams, like Eagle Valley, can pound it inside against the Huskies. And defensively, teams can sit on Jake Engle without O’Rourke.

• Nonetheless, losing some players to injuries has allowed some younger guys to get some playing time. Jack Kamby, in particular looked good Tuesday night with 10 points. Alex Banegas has had his moments. And young Joe LyBarger, who really isn’t that young anymore – I’m actually getting old – is unbridled energy and is stepping up to lead this team. Don’t be surprised if Battle Mountain turns the tables on some teams in the second half.

• Since President Barack Obama gave the State of the Union Tuesday and the GOP nomination fight is under way, a reminder that politics AND high school sports make for strange bedfellows.

Eagle Valley, you’re rooting for Battle Mountain Friday night when the Huskies are at Palisade.

“That would be a good one,” Padilla said with a laugh. “They’re going to want us to win that one.”

Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or

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