Vail Christian downs Rangely, 55-49
EDWARDS – Yeah, he had game at Mullen back in the day, but how hard is it to guard Pat Phelan?
The legendary teacher and coach at Battle Mountain and Vail Christian shouldn’t be that hard to contain, right?
“He’s deceptively quick,” Vail Christian boys basketball coach Sheldon Kuhns joked.
The object of the Saints’ attention was indeed Patrick Phelan – a senior at Rangely who was averaging 29 points per game coming into Friday night’s contest. Vail Christian managed to “hold” Phelan to a mere 21 points and pulled out a big 55-49 win.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” said Saints point guard Fernando Hernandez, who had the primary responsibility of keeping tabs on Phelan. “Coach was telling me not to let him go right or left because he could go either way. I was trying to square him up and not let him shoot 3s because he can shoot them.”
Hernandez did his job, but as any coach will tell you, defense is a team game.
“We had to switch up and stay in front of him,” Kuhns said. “Once we started to sink our help defenders – he still scored 21 – I thought be did a pretty good job. In helping, we gave up some rebounding position, and that hurt us a couple of times.”
But happily for all those in blue and silver, the Saints put together one of their best games of the season and won a tight game, a rarity for the Vail Christian boys the past few years.
In some ways, this was a throwback game for Vail Christian offensively. The Saints, who are now more of quick, guard-oriented team, had a size advantage on the Panthers, so they pounded the ball into the paint.
Big-man Larry Cavanaugh was the beneficiary with a team-high 17 points.
“Tons of fun,” Cavanaugh said. “The passes were great. I just had to go to work.”
Unlike, say, the years of Caleb Pearson and Jaryd Francis, Vail Christian also got good balance. Teller Emmer started the game on fire and finished with 10 points. Granger Moch sank big 3s to start both halves. And when it got tight late, the Saints had the answer on both sides of the ball.
Freshman Zach Linder and Cavanaugh both took huge charges, the latter against Phelan. Up just 50-47 with 1:37 left, Hernandez popped a 3 for some breathing room. Both Kieran Hurtt and Emmer came up with big defensive stops in the final minute.
“We haven’t been winning these types of games,” Kuhns said. “Last year, we were close, but we’d always come up a couple buckets short. Getting over the hump is huge, especially for these young guys. These young guys believe now.”
Rangely 62, Vail Christian 33
The full-court press is not new to Vail Christian, but for some reason Friday, the Saints couldn’t handle it in a 62-33 loss to Rangely.
“It took us out of our game early,” Saints coach Doug Bruce said. “It kind of surprised me, because we’ve been handling people’s pressure better than that. I think we’ve been playing better than that. I give Rangely credit for pressing well. But we made a lot of mistakes we haven’t been making.”
Vail Christian fell behind, 21-6, after the first quarter was down 31-13 at the half. The Saints made a bit of a run in the third quarter, but were in too deep a hole.
Alexis Ellsworth led Vail Christian with 11 points. Ashlyn Gruber finished with seven, while Dakota Francis and Emily Irwin each had six.
Both Vail Christian teams head to Greeley today for games against the Union Colony Preparatory School.
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