RIFLE (2/3/17) — Legend has it that Roger Walters, coach of the Rifle boys basketball team, once made one hundred straight in the early morning free throw ladders in the Bears Den during his playing days. True or not, there’s no doubting daughter Elly, a junior who makes 75 per cent from the line , has put into practice some excellent instruction from coach Walters.

So when Friday’s Western Slope League girls first-place showdown with Palisade came down to Walters at the line with one second (actually 1.7) showing on the scoreboard and the game tied, it wasn’t surprising the fourth leading scorer in the league made both free throws for a 35-33 win that ties Rifle with the Lady Bulldogs atop the WSL.

What was a surprise was that Walters had missed six of nine previous attempts , making this marvelous defensive battle closer than it might have been.

The Palisade boys, losers of 14 of their previous 17 games, including a 61-47 defeat at home to the Bears in January, came out gunning from long-distance, making their first three 3-pointers and kept it up all game long to upset Rifle, 52-40, dropping the Bears (8-10, 5-3) into a second-place tie with Glenwood Springs (10-9, 5-3).


When these teams last met shortly after New Year’s Day, the Bulldogs had assigned senior Jessica Bellmire to shadow Walters everywhere she went, denying her the ball on every Rifle possession. That strategy resulted in Walters only attempting five shots, scoring just two first-quarter points in a 30-21 loss.

In a strategic change, Palisade coach Danielle Bagwell decided to play a match-up man defense, with Emma Mueller drawing Walters, that allowed the league’s second-ranked assist leader much more touches. The difference was apparent as Walters scored in every quarter, and it was Rifle that pulled away in the third quarter to take a 24-19 lead going into the final period.

The teams had traded 7-6 quarter advantages in the first half, leaving them tied at 13 by halftime. Unable to get the ball inside to Samantha Hinkle, who had scored 28 in a recent win over Steamboat Springs, or penetrate, the Bears put up twelve three-pointers, making just two.

Rifle’s defense was just as effective, with Walters holding the league’s second-leading scorer, Christa Brown, who had 15 of the ‘Dogs’ 30 points in the previous meeting, to just 9 points on 7 shots. Hinkle made things tough on the Palisade bigs inside and grabbed four steals. Walters had five steals, Katy Manuppella three and Jessie Pressler two. The Bulldogs made just 11 of 34 shots (one-of-seven 3-pointers) and had 16 turnovers, two more than the Bears, who had committed 30 errors in the January loss.

The lead changed hands four times in the first four minutes of the third quarter with a steal and layup by Walters putting Rifle ahead 18-17 at the 4:24 mark. Following another Walters’ steal, Hinkle kicked the ball out to Karly Manuppella who drained a three-pointer, then following a steal by Katy, Karly made a layup for the Bears’ biggest lead, 23-17 with 2:50 left in the third.

Rifle still led by five going to the fourth quarter and extended it to eight when Katy Manuppella turned a pass from Karly into another trey on the Bears’ first possession. Half-way through the period, Rifle led 32-25 when Palisade fought back at the free throw line, making 6-of-7 to get within three. With 2:10 remaining, Brown got loose on top of the key for what looking like a tying 3-pointer, but officials ruled it a two.

Karly Manuppella made the first of a one-and-one for a 33-31 lead with 1:56 left, but Emma Haas, who had missed three free throws earlier in the quarter, scored on an in-bounds pass to tie the score with 1:30 left.

Haas blocked Karly Manuppella’s shot at the 1:10 mark, then Hinkle’s defense forced Haas to miss at the other end with the ball going out of bounds to Rifle with 47 seconds left. Katy Manuppella got trapped in the corner after breaking Palisade’s press, but coach Kristy Wallner bailed her out with an emphatic time out and 22 seconds on the clock.

After the time out, Walters used nearly all the remaining seconds before driving into the key and putting up a shot that drew a foul with 1.7 left. With everyone else thinking of her six previous misses and hoping for one of the double-bonus shots to fall, Walters calmly made two, earning applause from Mom and Dad in the stands.

Walters deflected Palisade’s attempt to pass the ball to Brown at half-court and any chance of a desperation hail-mary for the win.

Brown and Haas each scored nine to lead the Bulldogs with Anita Ramos adding 7 and 7 rebounds. Walters’ 14 paced the Bears as did her 8 boards. Karly Manuppella had a season-high 12 points, and Katy had 7.

The victory breaks a tie atop the WSL, leaving Rifle (14-3, 7-1) a game ahead of Palisade (15-3, 6-2).


Six different Bulldogs launched successful 3-point bombs in the game as Palisade made 8-of-15 in stopping the Bears’ six-game winning streak. The visitors took the lead on Tanner Hall’s trey with 3:50 left in the first quarter, then hit two more for a 15-6 first quarter margin. Rifle got within three early in the second, but Palisade hit two more from downtown and led at the half, 21-17.

The Bulldog long-distance marksmen kept it up in the third period as three different players scored from beyond the arc, increasing the lead to ten, 34-24.

Rifle, which missed all seven shots from the floor in that quarter, finally found the range in the final frame. After starting the game 1-for-9 on their 3-point attempts, the Bears used Carter Sturgeon’s first basket of the game and another trey from Blaine Vance to cap a 12-0 run and tie the score at 36 with 3:20 to go in the fourth.

But Palisade responded with a parade to the free throw line, making 12-of-13 in the last two minutes, including 8 from Miguel Quintana, while the Bears again went cold, being outscored 16-1 until Sturgeon hit a last-second trey.

Jacob Boone, the league’s leading scorer with a 19.5 average, made just 3-of-13 shots, finishing with 11, as did Vance. Sturgeon, held to one point through three quarters, tallied 8 in the fourth, winding up with nine, and 7 rebounds. Quintana led Palisade with 13 and Max Noland added 12.