Padgett leads Wildcats to easy win over rival Tigers
There were but a few moments for Alex Padgett to look around and absorb the best of high school basketball. This is his last chance, and he knew it.
The senior will never be in an atmosphere quite like this again. Two seas of students, standing from the hardwood to the top row, parted by the Grand Junction band. Grand Junction Police officers standing guard. Noise that tickles the tips of ears.
“This is what it’s all about,” Padgett told his teammates in a huddle Friday night at Grand Junction High School before tip-off.
Then Fruita Monument went out and defeated Grand Junction 64-34 as Padgett added a few more memories amid his game-high 28 points.
The Wildcats (10-2, 1-0 Southwestern League), with eight seniors, did not collapse among the crowd’s hype. Instead, five players at a time, they controlled the emotions of hundreds.
Fruita hushed the 3-point shooters of Grand Junction (7-5, 0-1). It did so with, of all defenses, a 2-3 zone. Normally, 3-point shooters get a jolt in their hearts at the sight of a zone that features only two men at the top of the key. But Fruita’s guards stood post near the 3-point line. They sprinted to shooters.
And with 6-foot-3 Drew Bridges nullifying the Tigers’ inside game, Grand Junction’s offense was held to three points in the third quarter.
“All our shots were contested,” Grand Junction guard Casey Burns said. “They had us frazzled and we didn’t know what to do.”
Fruita took a 20-5 lead early into the second quarter. A 3-pointer by Broderick Robinson late in the quarter cut the Wildcats’ lead to 25-15, and the Tigers trailed by eight at halftime.
While the crowd was filtering out of the gym to restrooms and the concession stand and any spot with open air, Fruita coach Dave Fox was laying into his players.
“I was mad at halftime,” he said. “We played pretty selfish on offense.”
But the defense? You could say if one man was beaten off the dribble, the Wildcats wanted to help each other.
“We just hustled; we’re a family,” Padgett said. “I’ve played with these kids for five years. We love each other. We love our coaches.”
And they love their fans. Some girls in the first row wore cowboy hats and boots and camouflage shirts to exemplify their rural pride. Fruita Athletic Director Denny Squibb stood in front of the blue wall of standing-room-only fans throughout.
“There was almost a riot here last year,” Squibb said. “Well, not a riot, but a big mob. It is very exciting. It’s what high school sports is all about.”
The athletic director, a former boys basketball coach at Fruita, knows this is what it’s all about.
So did a senior, Padgett, who told his teammates just that.
It’s about cross-valley rivals meeting for the first time in a season and answering a simple question: Who’s better?
On Friday, that answer was Fruita.
“We’ve been playing here for years,” Bridges said. “We’re used to the hype. That helped a lot.”