Vail Christian beats Caliche, takes third
BROOMFIELD – And everyone in Vail Christian blue, silver and white lived happily ever after.
In a basketball game and/or track meet and/or boxing match that was pretty much a microcosm of everything Saints boys basketball experienced in 2012-13, Vail Christian outlasted four-time defending state champion, Caliche, 87-76, Saturday afternoon at the state playoffs at the 1stBank Center in Broomfield to finish the season as the third-best team in Class 1A.
First, there was the matter of bouncing back. No team wants to play in a third-place game. The goal is a state title. The Saints threw themselves into this one figuratively and literally.
“Fourth doesn’t get a trophy,” said senior shooting-guard Robby Bowles. “Third, second and first get a trophy, and we wanted a trophy. And we wanted 20 wins. Twenty was the big push.”
“I guess all the anger and sadness after yesterday, we were like, ‘We can’t go out on a loss. We can’t,”’ senior Zach Linder said. “And it feels a lot better now.”
It’s worth noting here that the 2013 Saints are officially the best basketball team in school history with a 20-5 record. They broke the alleged curse of Friday at districts and went farther in the postseason than any team in Vail Christian history.
Then there was tempo of the game. Saints coach Sheldon Kuhn had expected a physical game against Caliche, so he gets a gold star. The Saints can run and that creates whistles, as did Caliche’s strategy of charging the basket relentlessly. But no one expected Foul-a-Palooza 2013.
The Saints and Buffaloes combined for 59 fouls and 80 free throws in a 32-minute game Saturday. In the first half alone, Caliche was 20-for-28 from the line as the Buffs led 37-36 at the break, and that stat left the Saints in a slight state of consternation.
“During halftime, (assistant) coach (Josh) Sibley came there and said, ‘We can’t do anything about the officials, so we might as well not worry about it,'” Linder said.
And while everyone in a Vail Christian uniform, including scorekeeper Melita Kuhns, was in foul trouble, the Saints kept their heads very well. The refs whistled Caliche 19 times in the second half to Vail Christian’s 13.
That translated into a 51-point eruption in the final 16 minutes of the season for Vail Christian as the Saints pulled ahead for good.
Gunnar Wilson ended the afternoon with a stunning 32 points.
“Did you realize the (school) record is 33 and you missed two free throws,” Bowles said with Wilson standing right next to him in postgame.
“Just like Robby to know that right away,” Wilson replied.
Wilson may want asterisk on Pearson’s 33 points. Pearson put up that record in an 83-78 overtime win against Coal Ridge on Dec. 15, 2005. Either way, Wilson had a little bit of everything in Saturday’s game. After one of his baskets, Wilson headed the ball back to the baseline and got a warning for delay of game.
“I had some fans yell at me, ‘Go play soccer,'” Wilson said with a smile.
Wilson might have his name on a trophy somewhere for his efforts with Battle Mountain last fall. (And, yes, so does Vail Christian’s Nigel Johnsen.)
Bowles finished his stellar hoops career with 22 points against the Buffs. Not to be overlooked was the depth, especially in a foul-filled game, the Saints showed. Junior Branden Currey was huge with 13 points off the bench.
“I’m just proud of them. See, now you’re going to get me emotional,” Sheldon Kuhns said. “For four years, they showed up to practice everyday. They showed up and played hard everyday. They showed up in the summer time. They gave everything for four years. They showed the younger guys how to play. I am proud to have coached them.”
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Jeff Shiffrin, with his wife, Eileen, made the Vail area their home decades ago, and together raised Mikaela and Taylor Shiffrin, who was a member of the two-time NCAA Champion University of Denver Ski Team.