Will of the Wildcats: Fruita guts out victory over GJ

Fruita Monument’s Drew Bridges soars to the basket Friday night during the first half of the Wildcats’ victory over the Tigers.

There was no element of surprise during Friday night’s Grand Junction-Fruita Monument boys basketball game.

In front of a capacity crowd at Fruita, the two team’ familiarity kept either team from holding a comfortable lead. The two teams battled on every possession, and it resulted in a hard-fought 47-43 victory for the Wildcats.

“We both know each other’s stuff,” Fruita Monument coach Dave Fox said. “(Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson) is calling out my sets, and I’m calling out his sets. It’s tough, but that’s what makes it such a great rivalry.”

Fruita Monument (12-6, 6-0 Southwestern League) took the first game between the two teams Jan. 14 with such ease everyone involved knew Friday night was going to be more competitive.

“There was no doubt it was going to be a different ballgame,” Fox said.

The Tigers (12-6, 4-2 SWL) started strong, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from Tyler Winder and Nate Yanez to take a 6-2 lead.

Fruita Monument clawed back with buckets from Drew Bridges and a 3-pointer from Tyler Daniels to take a 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Wildcats got a cushion in the second quarter, led by Tyler Kenagy. The Fruita senior had two straight baskets to begin the quarter and capped the quarter with a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 22-15 halftime lead.

Kenagy had 12 first-half points.

“I was trying to be confident and help the team.” Kenagy said. “We weren’t playing to our highest level so I wanted to get easy buckets to help us.”

Undeterred, Grand Junction made a push in the third quarter. The Tigers tied the game at 25-25 on a Sean Rubalcaba offensive put-back.

“I thought Dutch did a good job controlling us by controlling the ball,” Fox said. “They didn’t really let us get on the break.”

Fruita responded to Grand Junction’s run with quick baskets from Alex Padgett and Bridges. The Wildcats held the momentum for a 39-32 lead after three quarters.

“That was huge for us not to lose the lead,” Fox said. “It would have been tough, but we went on a spurt.”

Grand Junction made things interesting late in the fourth quarter, cutting the Fruita lead to 45-43 with nine seconds remaining on Casey Burns’ layup.

Kenagy made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Wildcats up 46-43, but the Tigers’ 3-point attempt by Winder fell short.

“We played a lot better than when they came to our place,” Burns said. “But the difference came down to defensive stops. There were a couple times they got easy layups, and that was the difference.”

Burns and Winder both had 16 points to lead Grand Junction.

Kenagy led the Wildcats with 17 points.

“This was a huge win,” Kenagy said. “We have to keep winning.”


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