Bulldogs have plenty of options on loaded roster

Palisade’s Kane Gunther rises to the basket during a game against Rifle this season.



Who is Palisade’s 12th man?

He’s the guy who, at any time, could come off the bench tonight against Aspen and help the Bulldogs extend their 12-game winning streak.

He is a rough clone of the starting five — around 6 feet tall, scrappy, willing to box out, snatch rebounds and, a few minutes later, return to the bench with a water bottle and a smile.

He could be senior Tyler Graham. Bulldogs coach Steve Phillips refers to him as player 10b.

Or he could be Zach Marengo, player 10a.

Player No. 10 is Daniel Ness.

Phillips labels them such because any of the three could be thrown into the Bulldogs’ second five-man rotation.

“Very seldom do you have 12 kids in high school who can play and contribute,” Phillips said. “Their stats aren’t on MaxPreps; they average 2, 3, 5 points per game.”

But they play defense.

And that’s all that matters.

To Phillips, a defensive stop that prevents a team from scoring is as valuable as scoring a basket.

Palisade (12-2 5-0 Class 4A Western Slope League), which hosts Aspen at 7:30 tonight, is a group of like-minded individuals who have managed to commit to such particulars as boxing out. By defensive stickiness and agitation, the Bulldogs haven’t lost since early December.

Get this: Monday was shooting practice for the Bulldogs.

Maybe — just maybe — they’ll need to rely more on their shooting. Guards Kane Gunther,  averaging 18 points, and Caleb Hall are perhaps Palisade’s best shooters.

“When you’re holding teams to 40 points a game,” Phillips said, “it’s not hard to score more than that.”

Until then, the Bulldogs will be assuming every shot is a miss, and when they box out an opponent, they’ll likely remember their coach’s words: “Sit on their knees.”

Aspen, 9-2 and 6-0 in the 3A Western Slope League, features 6-8 center Austin Roark, who is averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

Palisade will counter with starting center Jesus Aguirre, who is 6-2, can handle the ball like a guard and has listened to scoffs from the big men.

“There’s been times they think because they’re tall I’m just going to be scared of them,” Aguirre said. “I don’t think about how big they are. I just go out and play.”

As do any of the seven men who come off the bench.

“The main thing is behind our starters are five clones of our starters behind us,” guard Kyle Monger said.

Clones, or defensive machines, manufactured by Phillips. When asked about his team’s defensive prowess, Phillips bows his head and smiles, the look of a proud father.

He’s happy, and the kids are having fun.

They’ll continue the parade Friday at home against Battle Mountain at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday travel to Eagle Valley, which is 10-4, for a 1 p.m. tipoff.

“This is the best year of sports I’ve ever had,” guard Connor Whaley said.

That goes for player 10b as well.

“If we work our butts off,” Graham said, “we’ll get in the game and see what can happen.”

GIRLS BASKETBALL

First place in the Southwestern League could be on the line Saturday when Grand Junction (13-3, 3-0) hosts Montrose (8-8, 3-0).

Tonight, though, the Tigers need to beat Central and Montrose would have to knock off Fruita Monument at home.

The Grand Junction girls, 13-3 and 3-0 in the Southwestern League, hosts Montrose at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Tigers guard Jamie Derrieux, who had 28 points in a win over Durango on Saturday, is averaging 20.6 points a game.


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