Final-second frenzy

Aguirre's late free throw lifts Palisade boys to win

Palisade’s Skylar Miller tries to duck under the defense of Battle Mountain’s Alex Banegas on Thursday night in the first half of the Bulldogs’ 45-44 victory. Banegas succeeded in blocking Miller’s shot on the play.

Tie game — three seconds left with the clock running down Thursday night. Palisade High School’s Jesus Aguirre dribbled across halfcourt and crouched to shoot a long prayer.

Then he was fouled. There were 0.2 seconds remaining. Three free throws. He only needed to make one.

Battle Mountain’s Jack Kamby punched the floor in frustration, and Aguirre dropped to the court, thoughts of it being every kid’s dream to make game-winning free throws skipping through his mind.

The first shot rimmed out. The second swished, and as though he’d hit a buzzer beater, Palisade fans burst into screams for the Bulldogs’ eventual 45-44 win, and guard Caden Woods, who could not even look at Aguirre’s first free throw, thrust his fists into the air.

“After everything it took to get to that point,” Woods said, “it was an unbelievable moment.”

Palisade (2-2, 1-0 4A Western Slope League) won its league opener over Battle Mountain (5-2, 1-1).

And they did so not just because of the free throw from Aguirre, who finished with six points.

In the final minutes, Battle Mountain clung to three- and four-point leads as numerous Palisade 3-pointers missed.

But with 35 seconds remaining, Palisade coach Brian Tafel put in shooting guard Zach Shurden, who had been 0 for 4 from beyond the 3-point arc.

First, Shurden came off a double screen and drilled a 3-pointer with 29 seconds remaining to pull the Bulldogs to within 42-41.

“I felt I was due for a good shot,” Shurden said.

With 13 seconds left, Shurden rolled to the top of the key and knocked in another 3, once again off a double screen. Palisade had tied the game at 44-44.

It changed the game in more than one way. Palisade no longer had to foul. Battle Mountain broke Palisade’s full-court press, Joe LyBarger missed a jump shot, and the Bulldogs were back the other way.

The Bulldogs’ center, Aguirre, ended up taking a loose ball downcourt.

That’s when Alex Banegas made the foul that shocked those who stuffed the gym.

But Tafel remained focused.

“I’m thinking Jesus is going to make it, and I’m thinking we had one timeout left,” Tafel said. “Depending on the situation, with less than .3 seconds left, the only thing they can have is a tip.”

So, when Aguirre made the second free throw, he intentionally missed the third.

Palisade had its win, and Aguirre, before his free throws, was able to relive many things in his mind as he crumbled to the floor.

“It’s one of those things where you know every little kid dreams about making the game-winning free throw,” Aguirre said. “I just went back through the whole game in my mind and said, ‘You know what? It came down to being on you. As a team leader, that’s what I wanted it to be.’ ”


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