Tigers take a pair from Saints in Edwards
EDWARDS ” It doesn’t feel like February outside, but it does feel like it inside.
While it was unseasonably warm Saturday, the chase for 2A Slope playoff seeding heated up as the Hayden boys basketball team came out of Edwards with a 43-30 win over Vail Christian.
“Every game’s important,” Hayden coach Mike Luppes said. “Coach (Dave) Marin and I talked before the game that there are four of us playing in the middle of the pack for those last two home spots in districts. Those are important to us. We know we have two games left this one and Soroco.”
Hayden (10-6 overall and 5-3 in the 2A Slope) is at Soroco Friday night. The Saints (8-8, 4-4) visit those same Rams the next day in the league finales for both teams, With Saturday’s win the Tigers got the leg up on the battle for the fourth place, and a home game in the first round of districts, while the Saints will all but surely be on the road.
The drama on the court started with off-court drama, as Vail Christian got word that starting point guard Will Parker had indeed broken his nose in Friday night’s game against Plateau Valley. Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns and company spent the first half of the girls’ game desperately calling just about everyone in Eagle County who might have some form of face guard that Parker could wear.
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Despite scratching phone numbers in the snow outside of the gym, their efforts were unsuccessful and the Saints were without Parker, which turned out to be a crucial blow.
“We just couldn’t get any offensive flow period,” Kuhns said. “We couldn’t. We played hard and foul trouble hurt us a bit. Despite all that, we still had some shots. We couldn’t make shots tonight. The guys played hard. Elliot (Ristow), bless his heart, he’s playing his heart out. He can’t do everything he wants to do (because of injury). It really hurt our transition game.”
While Vail Christian was tinkering with the point-guard position, trying Ristow, freshman Fernando Hernandez and A.J. Burgess, Hayden held the Saints to a season-low of 14 points in the first half.
Up 17-14 at the break, the Tigers extended their lead behind the sharp shooting of sophomore Graig Medvesk who had six of his nine points in the third quarter.
Down 33-21 in the fourth, the Saints made a bit of a run with two lay-ups from Larry Cavanaugh, one from Ristow and another from Chris Schmidt (who had a game-high 15 points) to close to within 36-30 with 3:14 left in the game.
But Hayden restored order thanks to a bucket from Zach Barnes, playing with four fouls at the time, and a field goal from Murphy Smartt,
“We came out and played a much better second half,” Luppes said. “The first half was not pretty. The second half was an improvement. It wasn’t great, but it was an improvement. We were able to put some points on the board.”
Lady Tigers roll
There is a week left in the regular season, but the Hayden girls basketball team has its collective eye squarely on districts.
The Tigers (16-1 overall and 6-1 in the 2A Slope) rolled past Vail Christian, 59-22, Saturday in Edwards. Soroco and North Park finish out the slate next weekend, and then it’s off to districts, and hopefully another shot at Paonia, which has handed the Tigers their only loss of the season.
“We’re ready to play the 21st, the first game of the playoffs.” Hayden coach Eric Hamilton said.
After Saturday’s game, Vail Christian coach Doug Bruce agreed.
“They’re an excellent team,” he said. “I’ve said all along that Hayden and Paonia are the two best teams we’ve seen, and they’ve obviously gotten better since we saw them in December. We’re still, against really good teams like Hayden, struggling to handle the ball in the backcourt.”
The Saints tried to slow down the tempo and spread the floor against Hayden. The Tigers responded with the press which overwhelmed Vail Christian
“When somebody tries to slow it down, we really try to let the defense take care of that and speed things up for us,” Hamilton said. “We put pressure all over them and try to take them out of that slow-down game.”
Hayden outscored Vail Christian, 9-0, in the first quarter and was up 31-10 at the half.
Tigers senior Holli Salazar came as advertised with 20 points. Teammates Kylee Sweetser (nine) and Caitlin Mahanna and Kyra Rolando (seven each) provided balanced offense.
With the loss, Vail Christian fell to 5-11, but Bruce feels his team has made strides since December.
“It’s like night and day,” Bruce said. “We’re still not obviously at the level we need to be at in this league. But you’ve got to look at the big picture. The big picture is that we’re making progress, but in this sport, it doesn’t happen fast,”
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.