It was a game -- and a finish -- everyone expected.
After the Northridge and Steamboat Springs boys basketball teams emerged as the best teams in the Steamboat Shootout through the first two rounds, they got together in Saturday's championship to play a game that was more March than Dec. 11.
It had controversial calls, great offensive and defensive plays and a finish in a raucous atmosphere that left fans -- and the Sailors -- wanting overtime.
In the end, however, the Grizzlies won, 46-43, with their depth, their speed and their execution in the game's final two minutes.
Steamboat had a chance to tie but couldn't get a decent look at a three in the final eight seconds.
"This is a stud team," Steamboat coach Kelly Meek said. "They were a stud team this summer."
Northridge had three players move in before this season, and two of them -- Geoff Chacon and Zach Huston -- combined to score 30 points, as go-to player Michael Crespin spent a majority of the game in foul trouble.
Instead of letting down with Crespin out, the remaining seniors stepped up for Northridge, outscoring Steamboat 16-8 in the first quarter -- an eight-minute span Steamboat would like to have back.
"We didn't defend their drive game well," Meek said. "We didn't want to get in an up-and-down game with them, and that's what we did. We told them before the game they were quicker than us."
Steamboat recovered from a mediocre first quarter, outscoring Northridge 23-14 to establish a slim one-point lead at the half. The game remained close through the final two quarters. Steamboat built as much as a five-point lead midway through the third, but seniors Cameron Burney and Patrick Ayres were forced to the bench with foul trouble.
"Foul trouble killed us," Meek said. "This game showed each kid what his strengths and weaknesses are."
Foul problems plagued Steamboat in an earlier loss to D'Evelyn, as well. Northridge went 18-of-24 from the free-throw line, compared with Steamboat's 5-of-9, on Saturday night. But several missed free throws in the final minute gave the Sailors some hope.
Crespin missed both his free throws with 1:03 left in the game. Steamboat took the ball down the floor but turned it over. Chacon scored two in transition.
Senior Collin Hare, who played limited varsity minutes last season, brought the ball up the floor and drained a three to bring Steamboat to within one, 64-63.
Steamboat senior Tyler Fosdick fouled Billy Mansfield. He made both free throws, which was the difference in the game.
Burney and Ayres combined to score 31 points, despite foul trouble. Hare added 12 off the bench.
"We knew it would be a dogfight," Northridge coach Tory Hanson said after the game. "Coach Meek's kids play hard the whole game."
Through five games, Steamboat has played D'Evelyn, Roaring Fork, Montrose, Conifer and Northridge. It is the toughest early season schedule Steamboat has played since 1991 when it had all Class 5A teams on the slate, Meek said.
Although it is little consolation now, the tough games Steamboat has played will be beneficial in the future -- perhaps as early as next week when the boys and girls teams play in the inaugural Western Slope League Tournament.
The boys play at Moffat County, and the girls travel to Rifle for the Friday and Saturday tournaments.
Burney and senior point guard Dustin Moran were named to the All-Tournament team for the Steamboat boys. Crespin was the MVP. Senior Kayla Kostur was named to the All-Tournament team for the Steamboat girls. Montrose's Lauren Becker was the MVP. Green River, Wyo., won the girls' title with a 50-44 win against Montrose.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org