End game struggles

Late turnovers costly for Fruita in loss to Demons

Fruita Monument’s Donny Thornhill drives to the basket Saturday as Durango’s Nick Hamlin, 32, defends in the Demons’ 37-36 victory.


Fruita Monument’s Donny Thornhill drives to the basket Saturday as Durango’s Nick Hamlin, 32, defends in the Demons’ 37-36 victory.

For one minute Saturday, it was so promising. Two Fruita Monument steals late in the fourth quarter, a Spencer Fair layup and two Fair free throws. The Wildcats led by two.

But so many first-year varsity players. Many such Wildcats had hardly negotiated dicey moments of a close varsity game.

And for the final minute, it was so disappointing for the Fruita boys basketball team. Turnovers pushed Durango (9-2, 2-0 Southwestern League) ahead for a 37-36 win over the host Wildcats.

Summon a 30-second drill, maybe.

“I feel like in Southwestern League games, it’s going to come down to the final quarter,” Fair said. “It’s going to be close, and I think we’ve got to work on a 30-second drill, see what we can get from that.”

Errant passes nipped the Wildcats (7-8, 1-1). Fruita had the ball after a timeout with one minute remaining, the game tied at 
36-36. Five passes later, a turnover. Again, down 37-36 with 9.1 seconds remaining, a turnover in the final second.

Still, with 0.2 seconds remaining, Fruita had the ball side-court, near its basket. Credit Devin Winstanley, who, when Durango simply needed to inbound the ball to run time out, engaged Durango’s Nick Hamlin, drawing a foul on the Demons’ guard. It was Durango’s eighth foul of the second half, and many hopping in the crowd and on the floor reacted as though bonus free throws would follow.

“I was like, ‘Here we go again,’ ” Durango coach Alan Batiste said. “We had a similar play where a ref called a foul with three seconds left earlier in the season, and they went to the free-throw line. It took me awhile to go: ‘Hold on, they don’t get free throws.’ “

Hardly an opportunity for Fruita. It was a dead-ball foul. Fruita was not awarded free throws.

Instead, they had one inbounds pass. And a pebble of time.

“With .2 seconds you can’t do much,” Fruita coach Billy Dreher said. “I don’t even think you can barely tip it in.”

Before the ball was inbounded, Fair smiled as he went through the motions of shooting a 3-pointer. He hoped his defender would anticipate Fair shooting a jump shot instead of charging to the rim for a tip.

“Psychological, I guess,” Fair said.

Winstanley, at 5-foot-8, inbounded. Batiste stuck 6-foot-6 center Trent Andrews in front of Winstanley.

“When I saw the guy taking the ball in was 5-8, 5-9, I’m like, ‘We got this,’ ” Batiste said.

And as Fair glided off a pick to the rim, his defender following Fair’s initial jab step to the 3-point line, Andrews tipped the inbounds ball away.

Fair led Fruita in scoring with 12 points and two 3-pointers. He did so after being elbowed in the mouth by Hamlin during the opening minute. Hamlin received a flagrant foul. Before the game, Fair, who had played against Hamlin in previous seasons, warned his teammates that 
No. 32 had wild elbows.

“I didn’t know it would be me getting hit,” Fair said.

Matt Story, who found Fair for the late layup that tied the game at 34-34, had 10 points.

Donny Thornhill chipped in seven points and a 3-pointer.

“I think some of our inexperience and youth showed down the stretch,” Dreher said. “We’ve either been winning by a lot or losing by a lot. Basketball’s a game of runs, and we made a great run and came out hot, but we couldn’t score after that.”

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