Slowdown works well
Moffat County wins district title with deliberate offense
The clock never moves fast enough for the team in the lead.
Even with a precarious two-point lead Saturday in the Class 3A Western Slope District girls basketball championship game, Moffat County coach Matt Ray decided to try to suck the clock dry.
The strategy worked, but just barely, as Moffat County (16-6) held off a determined Olathe team 47-44 at Palisade High School.
After Olathe’s Payton Grett hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 45-43 with one minute, 45 seconds remaining, the Bulldogs moved the ball around the perimeter for more than one minute.
With a pestering defensive effort, Olathe forced a jump ball but the possession remained with Moffat County. After a backcourt violation was called on the Bulldogs, the tenuous two-point lead was put to the test.
Grett was fouled while shooting, but she missed the first free throw and made the second with 5.3 seconds remaining.
After a pair of missed free throws by a teammate, Leah Camilletti sealed the win with two free throws for the Bulldogs.
“We had a lead and I didn’t want to blow it,” Ray said with a chuckle. “I told them to keep trying to score but (Olathe) played it pretty well.”
Allie Ehlers, who scored 12 points, was big down the stretch. The senior hit a 16-footer from the baseline, then went inside for another bucket to put the Bulldogs up 44-38 with 3:49 remaining.
“As soon as we started working as a team, we realized we wanted this more than they did,” she said
After falling behind 12-6 in the first quarter, the Bulldogs slowly took control, grabbing their first lead, 14-13, when Jazmine Swinder hit a layup at the first-quarter buzzer.
The lead was seven when Camilletti hit a pair of free throws midway through the second quarter. But the Pirates came storming back.
Taylor Brown hit a banker in the lane, followed by two free throws and a bucket by Grett. When Brown snatched a loose ball in the paint and scored at the buzzer, the Bulldogs’ lead was down to 28-26 to start the fourth.
A baseline jumper by Tafoya tied the score at 31-31 and a free throw by Grett gave the Pirates their first lead since the first quarter.
The Bulldogs used a 7-1 run to grab the lead back at 38-32.
The Pirates crept within two on three occasions but they couldn’t get any closer until Grett’s late free throw.
Ray said the Bulldogs wanted to push the ball and be aggressive but he decided to switch things around for the second half.
“We wanted a higher tempo game but (the semifinal game) was such a physical game, our girls were tired so I used the bench a little more,” he said. “They were beating us inside, so at halftime I made the adjustment (to slow it down) and it worked out for us.”
The regular season was a battle of four or five teams and the Bulldogs came into the tournament as the No. 4 seed. Ehlers said it was a good incentive to prove they were better than they showed during the regular season.
“We knew we were better,” she said. “We didn’t play as a team in the first half of the season and then the last couple of games, we realized that we have a good team and we wanted this.”
The game was a rematch of last year’s title game, also won by Moffat County. After graduating seven seniors last year, Ray said this year’s team took a while to jell.
“This team really came through. The last four games, the girls really came together and matured,” he said.
The Bulldogs dropped down to the 3A level last year.
Grett led the Pirates with 13 points and Tafoya added 10.
In the third-place game, Grand Valley got strong games from senior Haley Johnson and junior Jordan Scott to lead the Cardinals to a 56-32 win over Gunnison.
Johnson hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points and Scott added another 16.
Cedaredge cruised to a 51-42 win over Coal Ridge in the fifth-place game. Nellie Freeman scored 14 and Kendall McHugh 12 to lead the Bruins.
The Class 3A state tournament bracket will be announced today, with the top five teams from the Western Slope District tournament to be seeded in the 32-team bracket.
Playing at Soroco High School in Oak Creek, Meeker pulled away from Paonia 55-39 to win the 2A District 5 title.
Hotchkiss edged Soroco 58-51 in the third-place game.
The top three teams from the tournament will advance and be seeded in the 2A state tournament.