Rifle Bears coping without No. 5 Austin Booth

The jersey of Rifle High School’s Austin Booth is draped over a chair Saturday afternoon in Booth’s honor during the first quarter of the Bears’ 57-56 victory over the Olathe Pirates. Rifle has won three straight games since Booth passed away Monday from a serious case of influenza.

Rifle’s Fernando Carreon drives to the basket Saturday during the Bears’ victory over the Olathe Pirates. Carreon hit key free throws late.

OLATHE - If Austin Booth only knew how much he is still doing for his team.

Booth, a junior on the Rifle High School boys basketball team, passed away Monday from a serious case of influenza. His death shook the entire Rifle community, especially his teammates on the basketball team.

But in the Bears’ first two games without Booth, they’ve won both in the final minute, including Saturday’s 57-56 win at Olathe.

“What they’ve done is dedicate their effort to Austin, not wins and losses,” Rifle coach Chris Lowther said. “They are gaining such perspective about what basketball is really all about, and how it’s more than basketball.

“It’s how can we help each other through his passing.”

Booth is still a huge part of the team, as the Bears wear warm-up shirts emblazoned with Booth’s No. 5 on the back. Booth is still in the scorebook, still introduced pregame and still has his place on the bench.

The Bears also have his “AB” initials stitched on their jerseys.

“It’s hard, it’s really hard,” Rifle post player Rian Creech said. “But everything we’re doing helps because it doesn’t allow us to forget.

“It’s bringing everyone closer together, and not just the team, but the community.”

Inspired by Booth, the Bears have put together three straight wins, including Friday night’s 67-66 overtime win over Roaring Fork.

“We have his jersey on the bench, so every time we come back, we see it there,” Bears guard Fernando Carreon said. “We know he’s with us, we love him and play for him every night.”

Carreon came up big for the Bears (6-5, 5-1 Western Slope League) late in Saturday’s game.

After Carston Byers hit 1 of 2 free throws to give Olathe (5-6, 4-2 WSL) a 56-55 lead, Carreon drove to the basket and was fouled.

The foul didn’t come in the act of shooting, and the Bears were only in the single-bonus, so Carreon wasn’t guaranteed two shots.

He nailed both free throws to put the Bears ahead 57-56 with 19 seconds left.

Olathe had a turnover on its ensuing possession and was forced to foul.

Carreon had a chance to give the Bears some breathing room, but missed his first free throw, giving the ball back to Olathe with 4.6 seconds remaining.

The Pirates’ Taylor Carlson missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

“I couldn’t hit those last free throws, but I got the important ones,” Carreon said. “It’s been pretty exhausting with the passing of Austin, but we got into the gym (Friday) and got a tough win and got another one here tonight.”

This was the only meeting between Olathe and Rifle during the regular season, and the game was tight throughout.

The Bears’ largest lead was late in the second quarter at 31-23, but Carlson cut the game to 31-26 at halftime with a 3-pointer.

Olathe took its first lead in the third quarter when Carlson hit another 3-pointer to give the Pirates a 41-38 advantage.

The two teams traded the lead in the fourth quarter, but a few big buckets from Creech helped keep the Bears alive.

Creech had a team-high 17 points and 13 rebounds.

“I couldn’t be more proud,” Lowther said. “I told them that after the Aspen game last Saturday because Austin was so sick and we came out and played well.

“I told them that (Friday) night and I told them that tonight. It seems like I’m more proud of their effort every game.”


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