Titans leave Saints in a quandry
EDWARDS, Colorado ” The conundrum that is Vail Christian boys basketball was in full view Saturday.
The Saints have all the makings of a a very exciting and successful team. As opposed to past years, they are not one-dimensional, relying on their big man. On the other hand, Vail Christian has to have big man Jaryd Francis on the court to be multi-dimensional.
That was the problem for the second Saturday in a row against a Mountain League opponent at St. Clare in Edwards. Francis picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of Saturday’s game against Crested Butte and missed most of the second quarter after picking up his third.
The visiting Titans used that opening to their advantage, coming away with 56-41 win, dropping Vail Christian to 0-2 in league play.
“The bottom line is tonight against Crested Butte when Jaryd was on the floor, we outscored them,” Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns said. “It was a competitive game. Last week against Ouray, it was the same thing. We need him on the court. We have good balance this year, but when he got in that foul trouble, we didn’t know where to go with the ball in the second quarter. We just were in a funk. It’s just frustrating. … Jaryd’s got to be smarter, and you can print that. He’s got to be out there.”
Those are unusually strong words from Kuhns, but the numbers don’t lie. The game was tied at six when Francis got his second foul and had to sit. It was The Titans led 18-10 after the first quarter and built a 29-13 halftime lead while No. 42 was out.
In the second half with Francis, the Saints outscored the Titans, 28-27.
Crested Butte coach Robin Loyed offered a different perspective on Vail Christian’s struggles.
“It is a subtle thing,” Loyed said. “We have to pout our top scorer on him because the height match-up. That causes John (Wright) to have to work hard at both ends, not that he doesn’t always. When Jaryd’s out, he doesn’t have quite the defensive challenge that he might, and that saves some energy for the offensive end where he really is a fine player.”
In a related development, Wright led all scorers with 23 points.
Comeback falls short
That all having been said, give credit where it is due. The Titans (3-0 in the Mountain league and 8-2 overall) played like the veteran club they are. As Kuhns noted, “They make you earn everything.”
The visitors built their lead with a press that frazzled Vail Christian into turnovers, and they showed the poise to withstand the Saints’ second-half charge.
“I thought we played very well in the first half. I thought we lost our poise a bit in the second half,” Loyed said. “I was proud of the boys because they got it back under fabulous pressure from Vail Christian ” our hat’s off to Vail Christian ” and then we knocked down those critical free throws.”
It wasn’t just those free throws at the end that helped the Titans to victory. Vail Christian mounted a 6-2 run to start the second half, making it a 12-point ball game at 31-19. Crested Butte responded with big 3s from Wright and Henry Linehan.
The Saints still did not go quietly. Having scored 23 points in the first three quarters with, Vail Christian had 22 in the fourth quarter. The Saints outscored Crested Butte, 15-6 in the first six minutes of the final period. Buckets from A.J. Burgess, Chase Gruber and a 3 from Francis had the Saints looking much more like themselves.
When Gruber got a layup with 1:57 left in the game, the Saints were trailing just 45-38. But the Saints had to foul and the Titans nailed the door shut as good team should.
“I’ve got about six different free-throw drills that we run,” Loyed said.
Francis led Vail Christian with 14 points, while Burgess had nine.
Next up for Crested Butte is a road game at Ouray. The Titans and Trojans, the class of the league until someone else proves otherwise, met in a preseason tournament with Crested Butte winning, 49-43. A win over those Trojans Saturday would put Crested Butte in the driver’s seat for the league title.
“I’m pleased to get a win because I think Vail Christian is a fine team,” Loyed said. “Coming in here and getting a win from them is a big deal for us. We’re certainly where we want to be at this stage of the game. It’s definitely not over by any means. We feel like we’re competitive with everybody. It’s there for us. If we play well and work hard, we should have a shot at the league title.”
For the record, Saints fans likely want Crested Butte and Ouray to split their season series ” the two teams meet again in Crested Butte Feb. 9.
In the meantime, the Saints (7-4) have to get their house in order. They’ll have that chance Tuesday at Soroco.
“Soroco’s going to be tough,” Kuhns said. “That’s not going to be an easy game. We beat them here earlier in the year. We need to get something figured out. The encouraging thing about this team is that we have all the tools. We’re just stuck in a rut. It’s a long season. We’re just in the middle of it. It’s better now than later. We’ll be OK.”
Lady Saints fall
It was a tough Saturday for Vail Christian girls basketball as Crested Butte defeated the Saints, 61-19.
Hannah Morris led Vail Christian with six points. The Saints will try to get back on track Tuesday when they are also at Soroco.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 748-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.