The Steamboat Springs boys basketball team is the Western Slope League champion -- for now.
The Sailors picked up the title after defeating Palisade on Friday and Rifle and Moffat County on Saturday in the inaugural league tournament held in Craig.
The wins don't count toward the final league standings, but Steamboat emerged as the team to beat when league play begins next month.
"It's strange having a league tournament before league play starts," Sailors coach Kelly Meek said. "I thought our kids did a great job, and we grew defensively. There are a lot of different types of styles of play in our league, so it will be interesting to see how this all pans out."
Steamboat was the only team in the eight-team field to play eight games in 15 days, and the Sailors (6-2 overall) came out of their brutal nonleague schedule feeling good about themselves.
Steamboat's only losses were to D'Evelyn and Northridge, teams picked in the preseason as two of the best in Class 4A.
"We talked for about half an hour after the Moffat game," Meek said. "We talked about where we are as a team and where we want to go. I really liked what I heard."
Steamboat defeated rival Moffat County, 42-36, to win the Western Slope League Tournament on Saturday night. The Sailors started out strong against the Bulldogs, Meek said, leading by as much as 17-5 in the first half before the Bulldogs rallied to take the lead, 20-17, by halftime.
"We went stone cold," Meek said. Moffat County maintained its slim lead through three quarters, but Steamboat staged its own rally to win.
"We hit a run in the fourth and took the game over," Meek said.
Senior Cameron Burney had 18 points, including eight in the fourth quarter, to lead Steamboat. He also had 10 rebounds. Seniors Patrick Ayres and Tyler Fosdick, who shot 3-pointers well all weekend, added 11 and 10 points, respectively.
"Tyler Fosdick has really started to come around," Meek said. "He really came around defensively."
Senior guard Dustin Moran had six assists. He is one of the state's leaders in assists through the early season schedule, averaging five a game.
Steamboat opened the tournament with a 72-53 win against Palisade, controlling the game from start to finish Friday. The Sailors were able to play their reserves for much of the second half.
Burney finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, and Ayres added 14 points. Moran had nine points and six assists. Junior Scott Peterson and freshman Colby Kostur each had eight points.
Steamboat defeated Rifle, 58-49, in the semifinals early Saturday.
Peterson scored 17 against Rifle. Ayres had 11. Burney and senior Collin Hare, who Meek said played well all weekend, each had 10 points.
Steamboat managed to stay out of foul trouble and had more free throws than the opposition in all three games, a first for the Sailors this season.
Another positive for Steamboat was the emergence of Peterson and Fosdick on offense. Fosdick sat out last season with an injury. Peterson was one of Steamboat's better scorers as a sophomore but has struggled early. His 17 points against Rifle should help bring back some confidence.
"The neat thing about Scott is he has stuck to everything else really well even though his shot game hasn't been right on," Meek said.
With Peterson and Fosdick shooting well, plus the three-point threat that Ayres, Moran and Hare represent, things should continue to open up for Burney down low. Burney, 6-foot-5, is also a dangerous outside shooter.
"We are looking at six guys that can stretch it," Meek said. "I had a college coach watching us who said we spread the floor really well."
But Meek added that the team can't get stuck relying on the three-point shot and needs to maintain an inside presence.
Steamboat's first game after winter break is at 7:30 p.m. Jan 8 against Moffat County in Steamboat. It is the league opener for both schools.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org