Vail Christian hoops starts postseason with wins
EDWARDS — The dagger came with about five minutes left, courtesy of the Jessies.
Vail Christian’s Jessie Raitt drove hard to hole, got the bucket and appeared to go down hard on the floor of the Wheeler Athletic Center.
Just 18 seconds later, the Saints’ Jessie Hartley poured in a 3 from the corner.
That sequence gave Vail Christian girls basketball enough breathing room for a 51-42 win against Rangely during Tuesday’s first-round game of the 2A District 5 Tournament.
The Saints (15-4) are going to DeBeque on Friday to take on Paonia in the district semis. More importantly, Vail Christian earned a regional berth with Tuesday’s win and will be one of 32 teams left standing when March arrives.
“I can breathe now. I think I can breathe,” Saints coach Beth Raitt said. “I was ready to play. I wanted to bomb it.”
And while we’re sure coach Beth has game, her players had this one.
Vail Christian had a seemingly comfortable 26-15 halftime lead, after which Rangely went on a 9-0 run. Rangeley ended up outscoring the Saints, 16-10, in that quarter, but Kass Baker and Jessie Hartley both had 3-point plays during that stretch to stem the tide.
“I think when one person struggled, another picked her up,” coach Raitt said. “We protect each other, and step up when we need to. We had constant encouragement. Our bench was loud.”
After a slightly tentative first quarter — the two teams were tied at eight — Vail Christian got going in a big way.
“After the first quarter, we were like, ‘OK, we’ve started it,’” said Saints sophomore Marti Schmidt, who had nine points and heap-load of rebounds. “The nerves are out. We got this, and we played as a team.”
Jessie Raitt got it going in the second quarter with a slick pass to Schmidt for a bucket. Young Raitt then had the next five — a steal and a layup and a 3. Meanwhile, Hartley was going off for a game-high 21, which never hurts. And fellow senior Remy Beveridge took a charge, which seems to be a school rule.
The ladies head to DeBeque for the weekend, and will play Paonia at 3 p.m. on Friday. That will be a big task, but the Saints are no slouches either, having won 11 in a row.
“I think the nerves are out of the way,” Beth Raitt said. “We can play without pressure. We’ll be fine.”
Boys advance as well
Can someone explain to Vail Christian boys basketball that it is actually hard to advance in the postseason?
After years of district play being a haunted house of horrors for the Saints, the gents took care of Rangely, 69-56, on Tuesday night to advance to regionals for the fourth straight year.
“For these seniors, they don’t know not making regionals,” said coach Sheldon Kuhns, who has known district heartbreak, but, doubtless, much prefers the last four years. “It’s exciting.”
The Saints (16-4) are off to scenic DeBeque for the second straight weekend, and will face Cedaredge in the District 5 semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m. Since the top-four teams from the district get regional berths, that’s done and done.
Whatever nerves the don’t-call-them-young Saints had before the game, they looked good early.
“You get a little bit of butterflies before the game, but once that ball goes up, it’s time to play,” said sophomore Bryan Trujillo. “You’re just back to being a little kid playing basketball.”
Vail Christian got everyone going early and raced out to a 21-11 lead after one. Both Trujillo and Logan Raitt went off for 20 points.
“It’s a big relief, taking the pressure off by winning this game,” Raitt said. “This is what I’ve wanted since freshman year — to go to the playoffs my senior year.”
And make no mistake, life is pretty cool for the Raitt family these days. Logan and Jessie are at the point for both Vail Christian teams and Mom, of course, is coach Raitt.
“It’s definitely more stressful during the girls’ game because I want them to win badly,” Logan said. “It’s a fun environment.”
Lost in all things Raitt and regional, the Saints’ defense did a nice job on Panthers’ point guard Patrick Scoggins, the prime pregame objective. Truth be told, the Saints defense was solid in general, holding Rangely to 22 points in the first half.
The Saints did get in foul trouble as the game wore on, and that’s something they’ll have to watch as the postseason progresses. Yet, Tuesday night was certainly not a bad way to start things.
“I thought our quickness bothered them,” Kuhns said.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.
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