Hayden's Paul Laliberte looks to thread the ball between two Vail Christian defenders Saturday. The junior scored 18 points to lead the Tigers to a win.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden's Paul Laliberte looks to thread the ball between two Vail Christian defenders Saturday. The junior scored 18 points to lead the Tigers to a win.

Hayden boys basketball beats Vail Christian

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Hayden's Jorge Valdez puts a shot up Saturday against Vail Christian.

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Hayden's Hunter Johnston shoots a pass toward the baseline Saturday against Vail Christian.

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Hayden's Mark Doolin charges toward the hoop Saturday against Vail Christian.

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Hayden's Aaron Cramer lays in a shot Saturday against Vail Christian.

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Hayden's Daniel Engle pulls a rebound down between Vail Christian's Kevin Boselli, 40, and another Saints player Saturday in the Tigers' 59-50 home victory.

— Hello, Hayden!

Wobbling after a 2-4 start to the season, the Hayden High School boys basketball team showed Saturday that it had bounced back in a big way, leading down to the wire to win in a crucial test against a strong Vail Christian squad, 59-50.

The Tigers shot well when they had to, were clutch from the free-throw line when it mattered and strong defensively throughout the night, all paving the way for a huge victory for a squad that feels it’s coming together at just the right time.

“We’re not forcing things as much as we were,” said junior Mark Doolin, who scored 16 points. “We are starting to play team ball, and we’re all coming together.”

A big part of Hayden’s success is junior guard Paul Laliberte, who in just two games has endeared himself in a huge way to the Tiger faithful. Laliberte was held out for the first half of the season after transferring from Moffat County High School because of state rules. After being limited for months to practice and then a few junior varsity games, Laliberte led his team in scoring in a Friday win against De Beque, and Saturday he came up with some of the game’s most pivotal plays.

He finished with 18 points, again leading the team. He sank a 3-point shot to open the game and added three consecutive free throws while he was fouled shooting another. A sweet 12-foot pull-up made it 32-30 midway through the second quarter, and he sank another trey after ditching his defender with a cruel crossover in the third quarter, with that swish making it 44-41.

He then made six consecutive free throws in the game’s final two minutes, helping pull the Tigers from a 52-50 nail-biter to the 59-50 final score.

“He played in the summer with us, too, and it just feels natural having him out there,” Doolin said.

As important as what Laliberte provided himself on the scoreboard is what his addition does to the rest of the team. A sharpshooting guard helped take pressure off senior point guard Hunter Johnston. It helped pull defenders out from the lane and free up junior forwards Jorge Valdez and Doolin. And it helped firm up the Tigers bench, giving coach Mike Luppes more options to shift to as the game wore on.

“Paul’s obviously got some basketball talent, but he also complements everything,” Luppes said. “He takes the pressure off everyone else a little bit and every position’s a threat.”

On Saturday, that was part of a big-time team effort in the win. Valdez scored 10 points and helped dominate on the glass, where he had 15 rebounds. Doolin also logged a double-double, adding 10 boards to his 16 points, and Aaron Kramer had nine rebounds to go along with 5 points.

Now the team hopes it can carry that momentum through a pair of home games next weekend on Friday against Soroco and Saturday versus Rangely.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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