Finally a victory
Fair's late free throws clinch Fruita's victory over GJ
Alone in the secondary basketball gym at Fruita Monument High School, long before the host Wildcats defeated Grand Junction 41-37 on Friday, Spencer Fair shot free throws.
He shot them for 20 minutes, all alone.
“I just thought God was telling me to shoot free throws,” he said.
Then came the game. In the final minute against Grand Junction, Fair hit 5 of 7 from the line to ice Fruita Monument’s win over the Tigers.
But there was more than the free throws of Fair, who scored 15 points. Fruita finally did it. The Wildcats, after losing their previous three games by a total of six points, had closed a game out.
Fruita fans stormed the court when time ran out, because, after all, this was the Fruita Monument-Grand Junction rivalry. In a few fourth-quarter moments, the respective student sections from Fruita and Grand Junction asked the parent sections on the opposite side to stand. They did, and with a minute left, it was four sections standing and cheering.
The Wildcats (8-10, 2-3 Southwestern League) played a variety of defenses — a 2-3, 1-3-1, 1-2-2 and even a box-and-one with the extra defender following Tigers standout Broderick Robinson — as Grand Junction (12-4, 4-1) opened the game cold shooting from the field.
Grand Junction did not take a lead until Zach Kiel hit a jumper with 3:57 remaining in the game to put the Tigers up 35-34.
Also for the Tigers, Henry Carmichael hit a 3-pointer with 15 seconds remaining that left Grand Junction down 39-37.
But for Fruita, not this time.
“We kept our composure this time,” said Fruita’s Matt Story, who often guarded Grand Junction 6-foot-7 sophomore D.J. Wells.
Wells finished with 11 points.
“It hurt a lot those three weeks,” Story said. “But you can only learn from losses.”
Fruita held Robinson to seven points.
“We just did a good job of not letting him beat us,” Fruita coach Billy Dreher said of the Tigers’ season leader in points and assists. “We knew if their shots weren’t falling early, we could play with them.”
And that’s what happened. As the Tigers went cold, Fruita jumped to a 19-5 first quarter lead on a Story layup.
The Tigers chipped away at the lead with a jumper and layup by Robinson and a 3-pointer by Greg Eccher, eventually closing the deficit to 19-15 at halftime.
But in the end, it was Fruita’s Donny Thornhill, who hit key jump shots to finish with nine points, and Fair, who hit five free throws to seal the game, the final one coming with just a few ticks remaining on the clock.
Fair made a particular adjustment during his pregame practice. He simply found he needed to keep the ball centered with his face. It paid off when it counted.
“Hand going straight over the rim,” Fair said. “Just the grace (of God), I guess.”