'Cats top Tigers, clinch league title

Fruita Monument’s girls basketball team celebrates its win over Grand Junction on Friday. The 48-39 victory clinched the Southwestern League title for the Wildcats, who improved to 17-6 overall and to 8-2 in league play.

At the end of the sort of furious fast break that has defined Fruita Monument girls basketball team all season, Lauren LaBonde, at top speed, took a bump and flew face first on the court at Grand Junction as though on a Slip ‘N Slide.

The Wildcats senior changed the game in the first half with three 3-pointers on Friday, and she ended it in the second half with the free throws that followed her slide as Fruita defeated Grand Junction 48-39.

In doing so, the Southwestern League title belongs to Fruita (17-6, 8-2 SWL), which won a tiebreaker over Grand Junction (18-4, 8-2) and Montrose (16-4, 8-2). The tiebreaker system came down to the total point differential of the games the three teams played against each other. Fruita Monument needed to win by four points. Of course, Wildcats coach Richard Atkins, for a tad more motivation, told them seven.

Atkins laughed about it afterward.

“Playing in this environment,” Atkins said, “will help us get ready for the state tournament.”

LaBonde, who scored 14 points, laughed out loud after making the first of two free throws that produced the final score with eight seconds left. She’d forgotten about her slide that resembled a goal celebration in soccer.

“When I fall, I try and land on my jersey so I don’t skin my hand, like this,” said LaBonde, who then showed a chunk of red on her right palm.

It was that kind of game, and particularly for LaBonde, who dove into bleachers and saved loose balls at the expense of her body. A league title was on the line.

That’s why Fruita’s Sam Parks, over and over, drove hard to the basket and finished with 15 points.

It’s why Kassidy Fair’s face flushed red in frustration after she fouled out with 2:39 remaining. Her foul, a leg bump, sent Grand Junction’s Sydni Brandon to the free-throw line, where she hit both to pull the Tigers within 41-37.

Brandon finished with a team-high 13 points before fouling out in the final minute.

“At first I thought, ‘Oh, no, what did I do?’ ” Fair said. “But I knew we’d pull it out, and I just had to trust in my teammates, and they did it.”

In the first half, LaBonde made three 3-pointers and caused Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza to change his defense from a 2-3 zone to man-to-man.

LaBonde hit two of her 3-pointers in the Wildcats’ half-court offense, and the other — her last 3-pointer of the first half that put Fruita ahead 14-8 — in transition.

But after Provenza’s switch, Fruita extended its lead to 20-8, thanks to Fair getting to the foul line and grabbing an offensive rebound, which she finished with a layup. Brandon and Erika Meister, meanwhile, took turns guarding LaBonde, who did not score again in the half. But when the title was on the line, LaBonde got it done on the line.

“We just didn’t play well enough to win,” Provenza said, “and I told the girls that.”


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