Rolling Thunder: Tigers fall to Grizzlies

Grand Junction High School’s Paula Lage (43), dribbles through a pair of ThunderRidge defenders with teammate Jeslyn Szabo (41), looking on during third quarter play Friday evening at Fruita High School.

For a quarter and a half, the Grand Junction High School girls basketball team went basket-for-basket with the No. 1 Class 5A team in Colorado, ThunderRidge.

But the Grizzles’ experience was too much for the Tigers in a 61-34 victory in the second day of the Wildcat Invite at Fruita Monument High School.

“I think we played even harder than I thought we could,” Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said. “They gave it everything they’ve got, and the kids aren’t moving real fast.”

On the floor, ThunderRidge’s full-court press gives most teams trouble. Grand Junction was able to break it early in the game using the speed of guards Stephanie Drake, Jamie Derrieux and post player Paula Lage. Most of the Tigers’ first-quarter points came in transition.

“They got out of their press because we were shooting lay-ups,” Provenza said. “We talked about forcing the other team to adjust to us rather than us adjusting to them.”

With Grand Junction finding easy looks at the hoop, the Grizzlies pulled back toward the end of the first quarter to pick up Grand Junction’s guards at half-court. The strategy worked, as the Tigers were forced to play a half-court offense, and had trouble scoring the rest of the first half.

“They were putting pressure in the half-court,” Provenza said. “They’re big and long, but we got some shots up but couldn’t get them to fall.”

Despite the defensive switch, the Tigers were still able to lead 19-18 with three minutes remaining in the first half. Undeterred, ThunderRidge built momentum and went on a 12-0 run to end the first half.

“We lost it a little bit before halftime,” Drake said. “We started to struggle handling the ball.”

The Tigers were also hampered by foul trouble. In the first half, Grand Junction starters Lage and Fawn Brady both found themselves with three fouls. With the starters running into foul trouble, Provenza was forced to turn to an inexperienced bench.

“We have kids coming off the bench that were JV players last year,” Provenza said. “So we are asking a lot for them to come from the JV team, and in the third game of the season play against the best team in the state.”

Because of the foul trouble, Grand Junction ran into match-up problems in the second half against ThunderRidge’s Brooke Jelniker and Carlie Needles. The two players combined to score 40 of the Grizzlies’ 61 points.

“They are a little deeper and we couldn’t afford to have our starters sitting,” Provenza said. “Needles makes that team go.”

Nicole Dohm led the Tigers with 12 points, Derrieux added nine and Lage eight.

“I think we surprised people with how much we competed with them,” Derrieux said. “We had to play hard and we did that.”

The Tigers finish their Wildcat Invite at 10 this morning against Palisade.


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