& Brandon Warr
GHS Boys Basketball — It’s not easy to beat a good team twice — let alone twice in a span of eight days and with a berth to the Western Slope League (WSL) 3A District Tournament finals on the line in the second match-up.
But that’s what the Gunnison High School (GHS) boys basketball team did last Friday in Grand Junction, overcoming a perennially strong Delta team a little over one week after officially dethroning the Panthers as the WSL’s reigning regular season champions.
The Cowboys held the lead through most of the contest, at one point going up by 14 points. But Delta kept clawing back.
Critical buckets by Braden Wood early and late in the game helped seal the victory for GHS.
He hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give the Cowboys an 11-8 lead, and the momentum, to close out the first quarter.
Then, after the Panthers had clawed their way back into the game late in the fourth quarter, he hit another 3-pointer (his fourth of the game en route to his team-high 19 points) to extend the Cowboys’ lead to seven points with less than two minutes remaining.
The Cowboys were efficient in breaking the Panthers’ last-ditch press and Hunter Wood hit two free-throws to seal the deal in the 60-53 victory.
“It felt great to beat Delta,” Braden Wood said. “We had worked hard all week to beat them and it felt great to beat them twice.”
Hunter Wood was cold from the field in the first half but got on track in the second, scoring 14 of his 18 points.
Geoff McDougal had a couple of threes in the game — one the old fashion way, to close out the second quarter with a put back and a free throw, and one from long range.
The Cowboys struggled containing the Panthers’ motion offense in the first match-up, on Feb. 27. But they employed a different defensive tactic in the rematch — switching on all screens and dribble hand-offs.
It worked, as Delta couldn’t quite get on track, scoring 17 fewer points than the first time the teams met.
Aidan Hulbert (9), Pascual Lerma (7) and Quentin Richter (6) rounded out the scoring in the big semifinal win.
On Saturday afternoon, the Cowboys were facing an upstart Aspen team and a chance to do something that hadn’t been done in 23 years — win the WSL 3A District Tournament title.
GHS easily defeated Aspen in the regular season, 69-43, but knew that they were facing a different team in the tournament. The well coached Skiers earned their spot in the finals by upsetting Coal Ridge, the league’s No. 2 seed, on the road earlier in the week and then narrowly edging Roaring Fork in overtime in Friday’s other semifinal.
It was the Hunter Wood show, early and often, on Saturday. He continually got past Aspen’s man-to-man defense for driving layups. He finished the affair with 30 points, off of 12 field goals and six-of-eight shooting from the charity stripe.
Aspen hung tough through the first two quarters, staying within six points of GHS at the half (35-29).
GHS tightened the screws — especially defensively — in the third quarter, building a 20 point lead and never looking back.
“I was ready to finish the game on a high note and I was going to do whatever I could to not let our lead slip away,” said senior post player Richter.
GHS outscored the Skiers 44-20 in the second half en route to the 79-49 win.
Braden Wood scored 16 points, including going six-for-seven from the free throw line. Hulbert had 10 and Richter 12 while McDougal, Lerma, Tate Hicks and Spencer Dickey also got into the scorer’s column.
GHS, as an overall No. 7 seed, will now host No. 26 Colorado Academy (11-11) on Friday at 6 p.m in round one of the 3A Boys Basketball State Tournament.
The Mustangs are battle tested, playing in the tough Metro league, in which they finished fifth. However, the four teams that finished in front of them are No. 9 Lutheran, No. 3 Faith Christian, No. 4 Manual and No. 18 Bishop Machebeuf.
Perhaps Colorado Academy’s signature victory on the year came during the regular season, with a 58-56 win over Manual — last year’s 3A state champions and the team that recently defeated then No. 2 ranked Lutheran for their district tourney title.
The lone common opponent GHS and Colorado Academy have faced this season is Platte Valley, who they both defeated earlier in the season.
The winner of the GHS-Colorado Academy game will go on to face the winner of No. 10 Sterling (18-4) versus No. 23 Kent Denver (12-11) on Saturday at GHS at 1 p.m.
The Tigers and Sun Devils face off on Friday at 8 p.m. at GHS.
Sterling finished second in the 3A Patriot league (9-1) and their district tournament — losing both games to No. 1 ranked Resurrection Christian (22-0). The Tigers score 69 points per game, and only give up 48.
Kent Denver also plays in the Metro league, where they finished seventh and lost to Faith Christian in the quarterfinals of the district tournament.
Kent Denver has faced off against both Sterling and Colorado Academy during the regular season. The Sun Devils lost to the Tigers, 69-37, while beating the Mustangs, 72-62.
As a Colorado High School Activities Association playoff game, there will be admission for this weekend’s contests at Gunnison High School. Price is $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors 60 and older.
Doors will open at 5 p.m on Friday and 12 p.m. on Saturday.
(Chris Dickey can be reached at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com.)
Region 7 Basketball Bracket
Friday, March 6
No. 7 GHS vs. No. 26 Colorado Academy, 6 p.m.
No. 10 Sterling vs. No. 23 Kent Denver, 8 p.m.
Saturday, March 7
Winner of Game 1 vs. Winner of Game 2, 1 p.m.