Saints clean up at Plateau Valley |

Saints clean up at Plateau Valley

Special to the Daily/Howard GardnerVail Christian's Larry Cavanaugh, left, goes up for a bucket during the Saints' 56-48 win against Plateau Valley Saturday. The Saints went 3-0 to win their first tournament in school history.

COLLBRAN, Colorado ” Vail Christian boys’ basketball is 5-1 after a five-game winning streak, heading into Christmas break.

In the spirit of a break, just stop and think about that. Five wins in a row and 5-1?

To answer the next question, no, the Saints have never had a five-game winning streak nor had they ever won a tournament in the program’s history until last weekend.

Vail Christian not only won the Plateau Valley Invitational last weekend, but pretty much rolled every team it played. And did we mention that the Saints were without their point guard, Will Parker (rolled ankle)?

“It’s great for us,” said A.J. Burgess, who was named to the all-tournament team. “It’s a first for us. When you lose your point guard, you lose a big part of your team. Elliott (Ristow) stepped up great and filled the position for us.”

“It’s a big step,” Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns said. “We knew going in, with our depth and our improvement as a team, that we should be able to win some of these tournaments. To actually do it is going to be huge down the road.”

The next tournament the Saints will play is districts in February, but that would be getting way ahead of things.

Taking the fourth

A Vail Christian theme for the first two games of the tournament was winning the fourth quarter. In a 64-50 win in the opener against DeBeque, the Saints slammed the door on the Dragons in the final eight minutes, 21-9.

That is quite a contrast from this time last year. Kuhns cited a few factors.

“One, it’s having experience,” he said. “The other thing is that our up-tempo game wears people down. It was apparent as all three games went on. We also have confidence on our end that we’re not going to let this get away.”

Jaryd Francis, who ended up as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, put up 26 points, while Burgess totaled 21. Balance was the key all weekend long as the Saints got contributions from up and down the roster.

Francis had a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds against host Plateau Valley in a 56-48 win. Chris Schmidt had seven, while Chase Gruber had five. Burgess poured in 10 more points.

“A.J. is emerging as an outside threat,” Kuhns said. “He led us in 3-point shooting. Also where he is really important is running out on the break. He’s quick in the open court and hard to defend.”

Vail Christian’s depth passed a test with flying colors against the Cowboys. Francis played only a bit in the fourth quarter before fouling out. Plateau Valley thought it had the Saints on the ropes, but Bubba Murray, Gruber, Larry Cavanaugh and Ristow all had clutch buckets to finish off the hosts.

Technically, Vail Christian lost the fourth quarter to Ridgway in the finale, but the Saints were up 58-25 after three on the way to a 68-38 win.

“Ridgway actually knocked off DeBeque Saturday morning,” Kuhns said. “They’re much-improved. They’ve got three freshmen who are big and talented. We felt like we had to end it in the first half and not let them get any momentum.”

Francis had 20 and Burgess 14, but again there were plenty of contributors like Ristow (nine), Gruber (nine) and Cavanaugh (five).

Break time

Vail Christian does not have a game until Jan. 12 when the Saints are at North Park. While this gives Parker time to heal, the Saints are setting their sights on bigger goals.

Kuhns doesn’t want his team peaking in December, but rather in the uncharted territory of February, and perhaps, March.

“These are good teams, but there are definitely better teams we are going to have to look out for,” Burgess said.

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

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