Grand Junction With the game well in hand in the final seconds, Steamboat Springs coach Kelly Meek went down the bench and congratulated each of his players with a hug for their outing at districts.
The Sailors, who had gone 1-1 at the district tourney in Grand Junction on Thursday and Friday, went on to score a lopsided victory over the Moffat County Bulldogs on Saturday to punch their ticket to regionals.
"I'm really happy for the kids," Meek said. They carried a tremendous burden and faced a lot of adversity."
Steamboat, which romped its rival, 54-37, had been playing with a couple of walking wounded. Point guard Jeff Aragon and post Ryan Scheer each have been bothered by injuries, and senior Ray Banning returned Saturday after having surgery earlier this season to remove a leg tumor.
After falling to Moffat County in the regular season, the Sailors shifted to a triangular defense to help stop high-scoring Bulldogs players Kyle Hazelwood and Pablo Loya.
Hazelwood fouled out in the fourth quarter with just four points on Saturday, and Loya finished the game with just three points.
"I thought they had a great game plan to take Hazelwood out of the picture and make us stand around. They shot the ball well and we didn't," Bulldogs coach Blaine Corlett said.
Unlike the last game, Aragon played the point for Steamboat, which presented a tough matchup for Hazelwood, a senior who had scored 31 points against district favorite Montezuma-Cortez Thursday night.
"(Aragon) was back and it is not easy to strip (the ball) from him. When you're not scoring, it gets frustrating. I think that happened to (Hazelwood). He lost his defensive discipline. He can create offense on defense. And our goal today was to build our offense on defense," Meek said.
Steamboat started out the first quarter strong with 12 of its 14 points coming off 3-pointers.
But the Bulldogs countered and pulled within five late in the quarter. Anthony Loughran threatened to make the score even closer, making a steal at the Sailors' end but missing a wide-open layup. Joe Padon recovered the board and made the putback just as the buzzer sounded. Padon's tip-in tightened the score to 14-11 at the end of quarter No.1.
At the start of the second quarter, Bulldog Mike Charchalis scored a bucket down low but Aragon responded with a trey, which started to widen a gap the Bulldogs could not close for the rest of the game.
Entering the third quarter ahead 28-21, the Sailors held the Bulldogs to just five points, as they went on a 13-point scoring spree of their own. The Sailors blew the game wide open when Cody Sherrill knocked down a 3, followed by another one from Sailor John Daschle.
Cameron Burney scored moments later to increase the lead to 41-26.
"We finally came out and all played together. We haven't done that a lot," Aragon said. "We knew what we had to do."
Scoring was even across the board with Aragon leading the team with 14 points, followed by Alex Mackey with 11. Sherrill scored eight points on the afternoon and Scheer had 7.
With the bottom seed out of the Western Slope 4A district, the Sailors will be matched against one of the top teams in the state when they advance to the regional tournament this week. The brackets for regionals will be determined today.