GRAND JUNCTION (2/19/16) – “For three quarters we were really good and got what we wanted,” Rifle boys basketball coach Roger Walters said after his team overcame an avalanche of 4th-quarter three-pointers by Steamboat Springs for a 48-39 win. The victory puts the second-seeded Bears (19-3) in the 4A Western Slope League District championship game against number-one seed Durango (15-7) Saturday afternoon at 2:30 at Central High School.

What Walters wanted was a patient offense and tenacious defense, and with a 27-14 lead going into the final quarter, that’s what his WSL champs provided, holding the six-seeded Sailors (11-11), who were playing without scoring leader Jonathan Rinck, to single digits each quarter and 6-of-18 shots.

The Bears’ deliberate offense produced a 10-4 first quarter lead, which increased to 20-11 by halftime. But with a 31-16 lead three minutes into the fourth quarter, Rifle missed three consecutive one-and-one opportunities at the line as Steamboat began to foul deliberately. Those misses didn’t seem too significant until with 4:21 senior John Zalesky, who was scoreless until then, nailed a deep 3-pointer and within two minutes, added three more treys, and with 2:20 to go, Rifle’s lead was 11.

Jacob Boone broke the free throw drought and Avery Lujan, Morgan Robinson, and Eduardo Ruiz followed by making six straight to somewhat offset Zalesky’s barrage of deep mortar shots. But when Ethan Rinikor, held to just two points through three quarters, nailed a pair of three’s around a put-back, Steamboat had the lead down to eight, 41-33.

The Rifle parade to the line continued, and though the Bears weren’t perfect, making 9-of-14 free throws was enough to hold off the Sailors. In the quarter, Rifle wound up making 19-of-29 from the stripe, with Lujan’s 8-for-8 performance leading the way.

Rifle’s man-to-man defense and the loss of Rinck, a senior who averages 15 points a game and was injured in the Sailors’ 45-37 quarterfinal upset of third-seeded Palisade, left Steamboat seemingly confused on offense and trailing by 16 with 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“Then it turned ugly. It’s always a wrestling match when we play Steamboat,” Walters said, but now the Bears face the relay-team speed of Durango, which ran past fourth-seeded Glenwood Springs, 74-52 in its semi-final game after flying by Delta 76-54 in the quarterfinals.

Lujan led the Bears with 15 points, going 10-for-10 at the line and grabbing 6 rebounds. Boone tallied 13 with 7 boards, with Robinson adding eight and Luis Carreon and Ruiz scoring 6 apiece. Zalesky’s 14 points, all in the final frame, led the Sailors, who will play Glenwood for third place at 11:30 Saturday, also at Central High School.


“We didn’t want a track meet,” Glenwood Springs coach Cory Hitchcock said of his team’s semi-final match with Durango Demons (15-7), who finished third in the 5A Southwest League, but received the number-one seed in the 4A WSL districts.

And for one quarter, thanks to the scoring heroics of senior Cam Horning, Glenwood not only stayed with the SWL Demons, but took an 11-10 lead when Horning made two free throws giving him all of the WSL Demon points with 3:14 left in the period.
Finally, with 2:10 to go, someone besides Horning scored as AJ Crowley’s layup regained a 13-12 advantage for Glenwood.

But a long outlet pass from 6-4 Scott Morse to a blazing Lucas Baken gave Durango a one point lead at quarter’s end. Mason Yellico’s 3-pointer and five points from Crowley helped Glenwood stay close when Horning cooled off (making just 1-of-4 shots and picking up three fouls in the period). Up by five, 30-25 with 1:30 to play, 5-9 Guy Bay scored five of his 10 points off the bench in the period, lifting Durango to a ten-point halftime lead,

Durango opened the lead to 16 by outscoring Glenwood 9-3 (a trey by Angel Garcia) in the first 3 minutes of the third period. Starting at the 4:30 mark, a 9-0 Durango run, with 6-4 Orion Clay providing 7 points including a follow shot and a 3-pointer, put the game out of reach, 54-31.

Glenwood matched Durango, 17-17, in the final quarter, but the 43-22 combined 2nd-and-3rd periods were far too much to overcome. Horning had a magnificent game with 33 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists, making 4-of-10 treys and 9-of-10 from the line, but Crowley’s 9 points weren’t enough support as no one else scored more than three for the Demons. Durango was led by Clay’s 19 points, with Bay adding 12, and Baken 10. The SWL Demons made 27-of-49 shots and were a near-perfect 14-of-15 from the line.

Glenwood will play Steamboat for third place at 11:30 Saturday at Central High School. The last time the two teams met, the Demons won 42-40 on a last-second layup by Crowley. Jonathan Rinck, the Sailors’ leading scorer, was injured in the quarterfinals, missed Steamboat’s 48-39 loss to Rifle in the semis, and isn’t expected to play Saturday.


Elly Walters’ 3-pointer tied up Rifle’s semi-final game with Montrose at 7-apiece with a minute to go in the first quarter, but that, and an earlier 4-3 lead on an inside basket by Sam Hinkle, would just about do it for the Bears’ highlights in a disappointing 45-17 loss to the SWL champion Indians.

The fourth-seeded Bears (17-5), who finished second to Palisade in the WSL, could manage just one more basket to halftime against the top-seeded Indians (16-5) who had just one loss in the 5A Southwestern League. Montrose couldn’t pull away, missing 8 of 9 three-pointers and held just a 15-9 lead at intermission.

At that point the Bears had held 6-5 Elle Pace scoreless, but her presence kept Rifle from the paint as evidenced by the Bears not attempting a single free throw at halftime. Walters and Hinkle also came up empty after their early heroics, and when Montrose made four of its first five shots to open the third quarter, including back-to-back treys from Kaitlin Ammerman, the lead accelerated to 25-9. Rifle was again held to one basket as Montrose moved out to a 33-15 lead by quarter’s end, then the Bears capped their futile night by missing all nine fourth-quarter field goal tries.

Walters’ five points on 1-of-7 shooting led the Bears. Ammerman had 11 for the Indians with Holly Brooks and Aspen Jensen each scoring 8 and Pace 7.

Rifle will meet second-seeded Durango (14-7), which lost a close semifinal game with WSL champion Palisade, 36-30, for third place at 10 a.m. Saturday at Central High School.

All the semifinal teams, regardless of Friday and Saturday’s outcomes, have qualified for the 32-team 4A state playoffs.