Off the mark
Missed shots hurt Palisade in loss to Delta
DELTA — Sure, hands often were there to contest, and maybe the shooters were at times a tad off-balanced, but if you ask Palisade High School boys basketball coach Brian Tafel, the Bulldogs had quality shot attempts.
They just missed them.
And in the final minute of the 4A Western Slope league game Tuesday, Delta, which had often practiced protecting leads such as the three-point margin it held in the final minute, rebounded and communicated on its help defense and made just enough free throws to win, 59-56.
After the green-and-white-clad student section from host Delta had filed out of the gym, Tafel met with Delta coach Von Mitchell in a darkened theater/cafeteria, the conversation ending with Tafel saying simply, “It was fun.”
And that’s what it should be with league leaders Palisade (8-4, 6-1 4A WSL) and Delta (7-4, 5-1). They traded furious baskets and full-court rushes to gain an edge atop the league standings with Eagle Valley (9-2, 4-1 WSL) entering Tuesday.
Chris Black led Delta with 15 points despite being in frequent foul trouble, including having to sit on the bench midway through the third quarter with his fourth foul. Palisade stuck Caden Woods, a fullback in football, on Black, decidedly the fastest, and possibly the most basketball-savvy, player on the court.
Woods scored seven points and often stuck with Black.
But Black also managed several pull-up jump shots and floor-running assists.
“Chris is a spectacular human being,” Mitchell said. “He is completely invested in the team. He’s our absolute leader and a blessing to coach. We know we can get from him everything he’s got.”
Delta, which had the height advantage with 6-foot-4 Douglas Hawkins (10 points), 6-4 Ryan Whiteside (five points), and 6-5 Eian Baier (eight points), led 57-54 with 1:09 remaining.
Hawkins thought the game already had been decided at halftime, when the Panthers led 25-22.
Baier felt comfortable in the final minute.
“We practice being up by 3, with one minute left, all the time,” Baier said.
With seven seconds remaining, Zach Shurden had the first 3-point attempt to tie. It hit the front of the rim and caromed away.
“Great look,” Tafel said, “and it was a good shot. Just an inch short.”
In the final seconds, Daniel Ness had a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt from a few feet behind the line. Again, just off the front rim.
“We were five of 22 on 3-pointers, and we had a lot of good looks,” Tafel said.
“I thought our defense started contesting shots,” Baier said. “We got a lot more hands in their faces. That helped make their shots harder.”
Zach Marengo led the Bulldogs with 15 points. With 12 seconds remaining and Palisade down, 59-56, Delta broke the Bulldogs’ full-court press, but Marengo, chasing, eventually stole a pass on the baseline and, as he jumped out of bounds, saved the ball to Ness to eventually set up Shurden’s 3-point attempt.
Tafel said it was the best game Marengo had all season.
“It was just a great high school basketball game,” Tafel said, “to watch and be a part of.”