Saints boys hope to capitalize
EDWARDS – Vail Christian boys’ basketball got everything it wanted out of its District 1 Tournament bracket. Now, the Saints just have to see it through.The Saints (9-9) are the No. 3-seed and take on No. 6 Norwood (3-15) at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at Delta. Not only are the Saints favorites in their first-round game, but they also get to avoid some big names in the District 1 field. “If I could hand-pick at the beginning of the season where we were going to be, we’re in it,” Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns said. “We’re really happy with our draw. We’re on the opposite side of not only (No. 1) Ouray, but (No. 4) North Park and (No. 5) DeBeque. We’ve beaten DeBeque three times this year. I didn’t want to play them a fourth time.”The Saints need to beat Norwood Thursday and the winner of Crested Butte-Dove Creek to capture one of the district’s two berth in regionals.Vail Christian has never advanced past districts. If that isn’t motivation enough, the Saints lost by one to North Park last year in Delta in the first round.”It would be huge,” Kuhns said. “This is three years in a row with nine wins. But we always go down in the first round of districts. Last year, we were so close. That’s the hump we’re now trying to get over. It would be huge.”
Taking care of businessAt first glance, the Saints should take care of Norwood. The Mavericks have been routed twice by Ouray and Crested Butte. They’ve split with lowly Ridgway, winning, 41-36, and falling, 37-15.The first important note is that the Mavericks were without the services of Jesse Efard (21 points per game) for half the season.The second is that Kuhns’ crew has battled consistency issues all year.”We’ve talked that Norwood is not that strong,” Kuhns said. “But we’re approaching the game like they are the No. 1-seed.”Three keys
For Vail Christian to push past Norwood and make a run, key No. 1 is a season-long theme. Opponents know that most of the Saints’ offense goes through Caleb Pearson and Jaryd Francis.Teams will bunch it up in the paint to stop Vail Christian’s 1-2 punch, leaving it to the likes of Chase Gruber, A.J. Burgess and Will Parker to beat them. The Saints did just that in consecutive road wins against DeBeque and Soroco.”It starts on the defense,” Kuhns said. “We’ve got to play great team defense. We’ve been doing a better job of recently, but we’ve had our lapses. We’ve got to avoid it. Offensively, we need to go out there with confidence.”No. 2 would be the aforementioned Francis. The junior has had two tough games in the last two weekends. Look for the Saints to hit Francis in transition.”One of Jaryd’s strengths is being able to get out to the transition game,” Kuhns said. “That really hasn’t happened much of late. We’ve been working on how we get him the ball in the open court a little bit more.”The third is getting a more efficient half-court offense. Vail Christian hasn’t been pressed by opponents, usually a weakness for the Saints. The result is that the Saints have been playing a lot of half-court games. With Pearson and Francis underneath, one would think that would favor the Saints.”You would think it would be, but it hasn’t,” Kuhns said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to get more easy baskets.”
Crested Butte?With the caveat that the Saints are focused on Norwood, Vail Christian could end up meeting Crested Butte in the district semifinals Friday for a berth in regionals.The Titans have thoroughly frustrated Vail Christian, beating the Saints twice this season.”They played us smarter than any other team this year,” Kuhns said. “There have been some teams who were better than us and beat us. Crested Butte outsmarted us both times we played them. They did some weird stuff on defense, and we weren’t able to overcome it. They frustrated us. We kind of think we know what they want to do to us. That’s the team we want to play.”In other first-round action Thursday, Ouray takes on Ridgway and Crested Butte has Dove Creek.Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.