Titans rally, advance to district semis

NEW CASTLE — All of the nervous energy the Coal Ridge High School’s girls basketball team felt in its opening minutes against the Grand Valley Cardinals on Wednesday turned into productivity.

Senior Carly Cloninger tallied a career-best 16 points and 13 rebounds to pace the Titans, who rallied from an early 11-point deficit to reach the Class 3A Western Slope League District Tournament semifinals with a 55-46 victory against the Cardinals at Coal Ridge High School.

“We were shaky and nervous,” Cloninger said. “I think we were so pumped up at the start of the game we ended up coming out jittery and couldn’t control ourselves. Basically, at halftime our coach (Rick Schmitz) told us that it was all on our shoulders and if we wanted to win it, we could.”

Coal Ridge did, and it earned the Titans (14-9) a berth in the 32-team Class 3A state tournament bracket next week and a spot in the district tournament’s semifinals Friday. Coal Ridge will play Olathe at 3 p.m. on Friday at Palisade High School. That winner will play either Gunnison or Rifle for the tournament title Saturday.

“We know that we’re a young team, but that’s not an excuse if we play bad,” said Paige Ryan, who scored 10 points and is one of five freshmen on the Titans’ roster. “We know we can do it and play with anyone.”

Grand Valley (7-13), which got 14 points from freshman Ashlynn Speakman and 12 from senior Shawnee Young, controlled the tempo of the game early on. The Titans took control for the remainder of the game, however, and forced the Cardinals into a loser-out game against Roaring Fork in Parachute tonight. The winner plays at 10:45 a.m. on Saturday in Palisade for the district’s fifth and final state tournament berth.

“It’s win or go home now, and hopefully we get to win and stay home since the game’s at our place,” Grand Valley coach Mike Johnson said. “Hopefully we play better. I told them after the game that I thought we were a better team than the way we played. I thought we could be special tonight and it started that way. Then the wheels came off.”

The Cardinals came out firing, as Speakman’s four-point play with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first quarter was part of a 14-3 run that gave Grand Valley an 18-7 lead near the end of the quarter. The Titans rallied, though, as a layup from Cloninger with 2:32 left before halftime gave Coal Ridge the lead for good at 25-23.

Grand Valley got within 34-30 at the end of the third even though the game’s tempo down to the Titans’ preferred pace. And with Coal Ridge up 44-36 with 2:45 remaining, an opportunity opened for the smaller Cardinals when the 6-foot Cloninger fouled out.

Coal Ridge responded, however. With 1:28 remaining, the Titans pulled down four offensive rebounds on one possession and went up 50-40 when Ryan’s putback finished the sequence and essentially sealed the game.

“I was worried. (Cloninger) was having the game of her life,” Schmitz said. “But that one spot where we had those offensive rebounds and Paige finally stuck in the fourth one was huge for us. That’s really where the momentum changed.”

Olathe 56, Roaring Fork 32: The Pirates never gave Roaring Fork much hope for pulling off the upset in the first round of the district playoffs.

Emily Brummitt and Morgan Stansberry each scored 13 points to lead Olathe (17-3), which jumped out to an early 16-6 lead.

Gunnison 44, Basalt 34: The Longhorns’ fourth-quarter rally fell short as Gunnison advanced to play Rifle in Friday’s semifinals.

Rifle 60, Cedaredge 15: The Bears had little trouble taking down the Bruins in the first round of the district playoffs.


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