Clutch FTs lift Delta to OT thriller
He clapped and scowled in determination, sprinting to the free-throw line and beaming at his teammates on the Delta bench.
Rarely is a basketball player so happy to be intentionally fouled. Yet there was Delta’s Jake Ames, exhibiting such a celebration twice in the final minute of overtime Tuesday.
He buried four of four free throws after the fouls and finished with 19 points as Delta won 63-58 in overtime at Palisade, guaranteeing the Panthers (16-5, 9-2 Western Slope League) at least a share of the WSL title with Eagle Valley.
Why so excited? In his driveway, Ames has a basketball hoop with a backboard so wobbly he doesn’t shoot layups. So he shoots jumpers — tons of them.
The practice came in handy as Delta and Palisade (16-6, 8-3) played a game dominated with heavy momentum swings, full-court presses and fast-break baskets galore.
Two scrappy teams collided, and Delta emerged from the dust.
Fans clad in Panthers green stormed the court and formed a cluster near halfcourt, celebrating Delta’s current share of the league title.
They did so shortly after Ames’ free throws gave Delta a 61-58 lead with 30 seconds left and a 63-58 lead with 9 seconds remaining.
“I expected to put the free throws in,” Ames said. “I believe in myself. I shot two hours a day in the summer.”
Ethan Jack Baier had 13 points and Taylor Smith added 12 points for Delta.
“Ever since we started playing AAU in fifth grade we’ve been playing these guys,” Baier said. “This is what we’ve been playing for since we were kids. It’s a dream come true.”
Palisade trailed 21-7 but took its first lead with 1:50 in the third quarter on a layup by Connor Whaley, who finished with 10 points,
Kyle Monger led the Bulldogs, which was eliminated from league title contention, with 13 points.
Before the game, the Palisade seniors were honored, including an emotional tribute to Gabe Hellmann, who died in a fishing accident last summer and would have been a senior this year.
A silent auction for a memorial scholarship fund in Hellmann’s name raised nearly $4,000, said Glen Fitzgibbons, a math teacher at Palisade who helped organize the auction.
“I’m sure this was pretty entertaining to watch,” Palisade coach Steve Phillips said. “It was a great Valentine’s Day basketball game. I’m proud of our kids — they were down early — but I have to give Delta credit for playing well and shooting well and executing well.”
Also in overtime, Delta’s Colin Fraser hit a jumper and took a charge on consecutive possessions.
“This game is about players ,” Delta coach Von Mitchell said, “and today it was all about them making plays.”
The Delta girls (18-4, 10-2 Western Slope League) clinched a share of the WSL title in a 55-28 win over Palisade.
Skylyn Webb led Delta with 23 points.
Callie Gafford added 16 points for Delta, which held Palisade (7-15, 3-8) to 11 first half points.
Delta is a half-game up on Moffat County and Glenwood Springs for first place.
“We set out at the beginning of the year to win a league title and we did that,” Delta coach Matt Hamm said.