GLENWOOD SPRINGS (2/15/18) – Upsets were in the air at Chavez-Spencer gymnasium as two undefeated Western Slope League champions faced challenges from old rivals. One streak continued, the other ended as Glenwood Springs senior Maddie Bolitho exulted, “We haven’t beaten them (Rifle) once since I’ve been in high school. I’m so happy!” The Lady Demons (15-8, 10-2 WSL) ran off twelve straight first-quarter points and used a second-half 9-0 stretch to end the Rifle’s seventeen game winning streak and hand the Lady Bears (20-2, 11-1) their first league loss, 42-34 in the teams’ WSL finale.
The Glenwood boys (19-4, 12-0) were in the opposite position, attempting to finish an unbeaten league season against a Rifle team that had won just two of twenty-one games this season. “We know we’re always gonna get Rifle’s best,” Demon coach Cory Hitchcock pointed out, as the Bears (2-20, 1-11) burst to a 9-0 first-quarter lead and led by as many as 18 points early in the second period.
Senior AJ Crowley, who with classmates Aaron Smith and Gabe Suarez hadn’t lost to Rifle in their varsity careers, attributed Glenwood’s second-half comeback for a 60-50 victory to a halftime suggestion from a former Demon, “guest speaker” Freddy Flohr. “We weren’t planning on pressing until Freddy suggested it,” Crowley said, and the “defensive energy blew the roof off,” Hitchcock enthused about Glenwood’s 41-24 second half.
GLENWOOD GIRLS 42, RIFLE 34
“Maddie (Bolitho) came to me before the first Rifle game and said, ‘Coach, can I guard Elly Walters?’” Glenwood coach Rhonda Moser recounted after her team secured second place in the conference, 42-34 over the Bears. Bolitho did a decent job against the league’s leading scorer in that January 9 game in the Bears’ Den, but the Demon offense was limited to four, single-digit quarters in their 37-27 loss, which dropped their league record to 0-2.
Since that loss, Glenwood has won ten straight WSL games, including Thursday’s upset, in which Bolitho limited Walters to 4-of-14 shooting and nine points. “Her defense helped control the game,” Moser stated.
“I have always respected Elly Walters,” Bolitho said afterwards. “I wanted to show I have the ability to guard her.” Bolitho, the Demons’ second-leading scorer and tied for the league’s best in 3-pointers, had just two points for the game, “but I just said, ‘I’m off tonight,’ and really tried to focus on shutting her (Walters) down, using my defense to get everyone else going,” Bolitho, one of five Lady Demon seniors, said.
That strategy paid dividends early as Rifle missed its first thirteen shots, and Tatum Peterson and Natalya Taylor led the Demons to a 13-4 first-quarter lead. The Bears’ first basket came with ten seconds to go in the period, but cost them, when senior Katy Manuppella, Rifle’s second-leading scorer behind Walters, slammed into the padding behind the basket after a breakaway layup and didn’t return for the remainder of the game.
Layups by Saylor Warren and Ximena Gutierrez extended the Glenwood lead to 17-6 before Walters finally got into the scorebook on a drive to the basket with 1:40 to go before halftime. Walters, who leads the league with a 42 per cent mark from 3-point land, but managed just two long-distance attempts in the game, hit her only 3-pointer moments later, reducing the Demon advantage to 19-11 at intermission.
That would be the only trey in nine first-half attempts by the Bears, while Glenwood was 0-for-6 until senior Ellie Moser drained back-to-back 3-pointers early in the third period to jump start a 9-0 run by the Demons that improved their lead to eighteen, 31-13. Walters was just 1-of-6 in the quarter. “We were going to make someone else beat us,” coach Moser explained as Peyton Caldwell and Masi Smith were a combined 0-for-7 on three-point attempts until each made a pair in the fourth quarter to give the Bears a chance at a comeback.
Smith, who was 3-for-29 beyond the arc coming into the game, opened the final period with a trey, and her second one capped a 13-2 Rifle run to draw the Bears within seven, 35-28 with 1:30 left in the contest.
Bolitho’s only points followed on a one-and-one with 1:03 to go, opening a nine point lead, and Bolitho revealed that junior teammate Gutierrez came up to her, as fans from both schools were roaring their exhortations, and whispered excitedly, “We’re gonna win!” Bolitho quickly hushed her, answering, “Don’t say that!”
Four missed free throws by the Demons in the game’s final minute kept the door ajar, but a Peterson rebound and put-back again extended the lead to nine, 39-30, with 30 seconds left. Ten seconds later Moser made a pair of free throws to offset a final 3-pointer from Caldwell, to give Glenwood’s five seniors, Bolitho, Moser, Peterson, Warren, and Dani DeCrow their first win over Rifle in their varsity careers.
A balanced scoring attach was led by sophomore Taylor’s nine points, eight from Moser, and six each from Warren, Gutierrez, and Peterson, who also had 15 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Bolitho, in addition to her defense on Walters, also dished out four assists. Smith and Caldwell led the Bears with ten points apiece.
Coach Moser found it difficult to express her feelings about daughter Ellie, whose lack of playing time in previous years had her thinking of giving up basketball. “She kept playing, and watching her develop, finding that three…” – Moser has made eight treys in the last four games – “She and Dani D. are two of the most positive players from the bench.”
Moser’s post-game thoughts turned to her vanquished colleague, coach Kristy Wallner, of Rifle — “I have the utmost respect for coach Wallner and their program,” and to a pre-game moment of silence, observed by fans and both teams, holding hands in a circle, alternating Bears and Demons, for the victims of a Florida school shooting. “We thought that, at the end of the day, it’s not about basketball,” Moser explained.
But the games will go on, with Rifle concluding its regular season with a non-league game against Montrose this Saturday, before CHSAA announces the state playoff brackets on Sunday. The Bears, as league champions and 20-game winners, will likely get a bye and host a second-round game next Saturday. Moser explained the Demons were ranked number 34 before the win over Rifle and if they move up to 32 or better in the 64-team bracket, could get a mid-week home game.
GLENWOOD BOYS 60, RIFLE 50
Senior AJ Crowley, injured near the end of his team’s 4-point win over Battle Mountain last week, walked onto the court for the final regular-season game of his GSHS basketball career, but after Glenwood won possession, coach Cory Hitchcock called timeout and removed him for the remainder of the contest to an ovation from the capacity crowd.
There wasn’t much to cheer about for the home fans after that moment as Blake Swasey and Evan Gray, Rifle seniors, hoping to defeat Glenwood for the first time in their high school careers, helped the Bears to a 9-0 start and a 13-3 first-quarter advantage, while the Demons missed all ten shots from the floor including six 3-point attempts.
Having clinched the league championship with an emotional overtime win at Steamboat Springs the week before, and, after a long senior-night ceremony following the girls’ game, Hitchcock admitted the Demons “came out a little flat” against a Bears team which had lost eight straight since its second win of the season in mid-January.
Five points by Joel Lopez, including a steal and 3-point play, and Trey Lujan’s 3-pointer keyed an 8-0 surge by Rifle, extending its lead to eighteen, 23-5, with 5:45 to go in the second quarter. Following a timeout, Angel Garcia rattled in Glenwood’s first trey after eight Demon misses from beyond the arc, then got a steal and another triple. Aaron Smith’s driving bucket, after a heated exchange between Holden Kleager and Gray seemed to fire up the home team, cut the deficit to ten, 23-13 with 3:19 until halftime.
Garcia wasn’t finished bringing the Demons back. Four free throws by Chano Gonzalez and Smith offset a pair by Lujan, with the Bears poised to push its lead back to double-digits by intermission. But Garcia picked Rifle senior Jacob Seeman’s pocket at halfcourt and drove in for a layup just before the buzzer, cutting the Bear lead to 26-19. “Angel’s defense is so awesome and aggressive,” Crowley remarked afterwards, crediting that play and the decision to go to the press for the second-half Demon turnaround.
With Garcia and Chano Gonzalez leading the way, Glenwood forced three Rifle turnovers in the Bears’ first four possessions of the third quarter. Garcia fed Luke Gair for a basket, then nailed a 3-pointer on a pass from Gonzalez that brought the Demons within two, 26-24, less than two minutes into the second half.
Garcia picked off Rifle’s subsequent in-bounds pass and his lightning layup tied the score for the first time in the game with 5:50 remaining in the quarter. A pair of free throws by Swasey gave the Bears a final, brief lead, as Smith answered with a baseline drive to tie, then made a free throw for the Demons’ initial advantage with 3:35 to go in the period.
Following yet another turnover against the Demon press, picked off by Wyatt Ewer, Smith found Suarez inside and the senior scored and completed a 3-point play at the line. Then Smith made two more free throws after Rifle’s third consecutive miscue to cap an 8-0 run for a 34-28 Demon lead. Smith wound up with eight points in Glenwood’s 18-6 quarter advantage as the Demons led 37-32 going to the final frame.
After Garcia’s fourth 3-pointer, a 3-point play by Smith, and Garcia’s sixth steal of the game leading to a layup by Gonzalez, Glenwood was ahead by eleven, two minutes into the fourth quarter. But Lujan, a sophomore, brought Rifle back with a basket and pair of free throws, causing Hitchcock to call a time out.
“We’re not very good at slowing things down,” the coach admitted. “I thought we were playing not to lose, so we came out (of the timeout) aggressive and knocked down a couple of threes” by Smith and Gonzalez that pushed the lead to sixteen with under three minutes to play, insuring the three Glenwood seniors (Smith, Crowley, and Suarez) would finish their careers never having lost to Rifle. “I’m so proud of them leading this program to three league championships in four years,” Hitchcock said afterwards.
Smith and the junior Garcia each poured in 18 to lead the Demons, with Gonzalez, also a junior, adding nine. Lujan’s nine-point fourth quarter gave him 14 for the game to pace the Bears. Juniors Lopez and Darien Church scored 8 apiece.
Glenwood, having won the Western Slope League title, should get a first-round bye when Sunday’s state playoff bracket comes out, hosting a second-round game a week from Saturday, February 24th.