Palisade shocks GJ in Warrior Challenge

Grand Junction’s Zach Kiel, 10, finds himself boxed in under the basket Saturday by Palisade’s Jesus Aguirre, left, and Connor Whaley during the Tigers’ 52-50 loss to the Bulldogs in the final day of the Warrior Challenge.

It’s not every day the Palisade High School boys basketball team gets a shot at the bigger schools in the Grand Valley, especially Grand Junction.

Heck, it’s not even every year.

Prior to Palisade’s 52-50 win Saturday against the Tigers at the Warrior Challenge at Central High School, the last matchup between the teams was a 58-43 win for the Tigers at the 2007 Warrior Challenge.

But despite going against one of the Class 5A Southwestern League’s top teams, the Class 4A Bulldogs went into the game with plenty of confidence.

“We really didn’t come in thinking negative,” Palisade junior Jesus Aguirre said. “We came here and thought ‘Let’s fight, let’s do whatever we can to get this W.’ “

And what a fight it was.

Palisade took its first lead of the game on a shot by Aguirre to make it 8-6 with five and a half minutes left in the first quarter.

The Bulldogs held that lead until the fourth quarter, when Grand Junction’s Garrett Harrison hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 38-38 with 7:20 left remaining.

Palisade’s Kane Gunther then made a free throw to take the lead back.

Grand Junction’s Casey Burns countered with another 3-pointer to make it 41-39.

The two teams went back and forth — Junction taking the lead, Palisade catching up — until the final minute.

The Tigers’ last lead came with 45 second left after Zach Kiel snared a short rebound and put it back to make it 50-49.

In the final 30 seconds, Gunther wiggled his way into the lane and hit a layup for a 51-49 lead, drawing a foul on the way up. He missed the free throw.

Aguirre hit a free throw with 8.4 seconds left to score Palisade’s final point.

Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson credited Palisade’s play early in the game for the loss.

In the first half, the Bulldogs’ defense put constant pressure on the Tigers, limiting the normally-potent shooters to one 3.

And when the Tigers tried to go inside, the Bulldogs stole the ball and scored in transition.

“They came out the first 15 minutes of that game and they set the tempo,” Johnson said. “They played way harder than we did to start the game and we had to play catch-up the rest of the time.”

Palisade’s defense kept Grand Junction from finishing with any scorers in double figures. Broderick Robinson and Kiel led the Tigers with nine points, and Harrison had eight.

Offensively, the Bulldogs found success sharing the ball.

At different points throughout the game, Gunther, Aguirre and point guard Caleb Hall found their shots from both the field and at the free-throw line.

Gunther led the Bulldogs with 16 points, Hall had 12, including six points in the fourth quarter, and Aguirre had 10.

Palisade coach Steve Phillips said balance will be key to the Bulldogs’ success this year.

“That’s what our expectation is,” he said. “We’re deeper than we have been and everybody’s going to play a role.

“I think if we just keep working with that, it’s unlimited what could happen.”


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