Tigers get first win in 2 weeks

In his first extensive playing time this season, Sean Rubalcaba scored 13 points Tuesday in Grand Junction’s 65-31 win over Battle Mountain.

Tuesday night felt right.

Playing in a makeup game from Dec. 8, the Grand Junction High School boys basketball team bounced back from two straight losses to defeat Battle Mountain 65-31.

“We needed a win,” Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said. “It feels like we hadn’t won in forever, because we had those weeks with one game where we lost to Fruita and Montrose and had to sit on those for a while.”

Tuesday’s win was the first for the Tigers since they defeated Central two weeks ago.

The key for Grand Junction (13-6, 4-2 Southwestern League) in Tuesday night’s game was how it attacked Battle Mountain’s zone defense.

The Tigers focused on attacking the basket in the first quarter and jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The Tigers’ aggressiveness opened up the outside shots, and by the end of the quarter, Grand Junction led 22-6 — propelled by five 3-pointers, including two from Mark Stern.

“We’ve been real tentative against zones and haven’t been aggressive enough,” Johnson said. “Tonight we were much more aggressive, and it helps when you shoot the ball better. I thought we shot the ball better.”

Leading the way was Stern, who hit four 3-pointers on his way to 13 points. Stern had been struggling with his range lately, which could be partly blamed on an injured left shoulder. Although Stern shoots right-handed, the heavily wrapped left shoulder was affecting his accuracy.

“I felt inconsistent, but more than anything it messes with your head,” Stern said. “You look down and see this huge wrap, it’s hard not to think about it.”

Stern was much more comfortable against the Huskies and Johnson hopes it’s a trend that continues.

“He needed to have one of those games,” Johnson said. “He hasn’t been able to hit some shots, so it was big for him, and hopefully it was a breakout game.”

In the second quarter, the Tigers continued to apply pressure on both ends of the floor. Grand Junction built its lead to 38-13 by halftime, led mostly by reserve players. Sean Rubalcaba led the way in the quarter with six of his 13 points. The starting quarterback on the Tigers’ football team, Rubalcaba sat out his entire freshman year of basketball recovering from a shoulder injury. Tuesday’s game was the most playing time he’s had all season, and the 6-foot-2 sophomore forward said he’s beginning to feel more comfortable on the floor.

“Each game, I get a little more confident” Rubalcaba said. “It was nice playing a lot, and I think I found my shot a little bit.”

Rubalcaba is a key reserve for the Tigers, and Johnson said he’s seen a lot of improvement from Rubalcaba since the beginning of the season.

“He’s been night and day from when he got here day one,” Johnson said. “He does so many good things for us, and you saw one of them tonight in his rebounding. He has a knack for it on both ends of the floor.”

The Tigers cruised in the second half, playing mostly reserves such as James Wilkinson and Casey Burns. The young players help the Tigers build a 51-24 lead by the end of the third quarter and cruise to the win.

“It’s always good to have one of those games where everyone gets in there and contributes,” Johnson said. “That can be huge for them to get in there and play.”

Grand Junction returns to SWL play this weekend when it hosts Durango on Friday and Montezuma-Cortez on Saturday.


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