Must win. That's how the Soroco boys basketball team approached Thursday's game against DeBeque. The result didn't matter in the league standings, but the Rams, who entered the game as losers of five straight, needed to begin the toughest three days of their regular season with a victory.
"Good Lord," Soroco coach Andy Smith said. "This was huge."
The Rams escaped with a 44-39 win against the Dragons on Thursday in Oak Creek in a physical, fast-paced game that had both teams making their fair share of mistakes and clutch plays.
Soroco (4-7 overall) simply made more of the latter down the stretch. With road games against Hayden and Paonia, two of the best teams in the Western Slope League, looming this weekend, Soroco needed a confidence boost heading into its game against rival Hayden at 8 p.m. today, Smith said.
Despite going just 6-of-20 from the free-throw line, the Rams came out victorious behind 13 points each from guards Ben Montoya and Tony Iacovetto and some timely free-throw shooting from Kyle Hendrickson, Bryan Spaeth and Carl Remick, all of whom are first-year varsity players.
"They are a young team," Smith said. "For the age they are, they play their hearts out."
Hendrickson's two free throws with 1 minute, 46 seconds left in the game gave Soroco a 41-37 lead, and Spaeth's block on Forest Matis' shot down low with 19 seconds left gave the Rams the defensive boost they needed. Spaeth made 1-of-2 free throws on the subsequent foul to give his team a three-point lead.
The Dragons got no closer.
But make no mistake, DeBeque played well enough to win, particularly defensively. Its full-court press gave Soroco fits all night, as the Rams frequently got lured into making the dangerous pass as opposed to the easy one.
Several times, when Soroco was patient and made good cuts, it broke the press with ease. On Thursday, both teams had a tendency to get going faster than necessary, and subsequently they took off-balance shots or threw errant passes into the stands.
"We've got to improve our passing," Smith said. "We are getting there."
DeBeque started out quickly, scoring the first eight points of the game before Soroco rallied to even things up midway through the first. The teams played fairly even for the remainder of the game, and then the Rams went 5-of-9 from the line down the stretch, an obvious improvement from the 1-of-11 through three quarters.
"It looks like we don't worry about free throws in practice," Smith said. "But that's not true. We've got to be better from the line."
But Thursday, the Rams were good enough, and no one was about to give the win back.
"We needed this," Smith said. "This is huge for the weekend."
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org