Oak Creek When the fourth-quarter buzzer sounded after Friday night’s Soroco-Hayden boys basketball showdown in Oak Creek, Tigers coach Mike Luppes had no one to celebrate with.
The Tigers had just beaten Soroco by two points, a team that handed them a pair of 30-point losses in December. It was by far Hayden’s biggest win of the season, a 39-37 thriller that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
But there stood Luppes, with no one around to high five or congratulate.
That’s because every one of the players was on the floor, sprinting back to the bench after the road win.
The Tigers had just five players in uniform Friday, and those five — Dan Engle, Isaac Bridges, Greg Frentress, Jack Redmond and Thomas Rauch — handed their biggest rival its ninth loss this year.
Hayden trailed the Rams by five heading into the final quarter, but Luppes decided to mix things up early in the fourth. It was a strategy he hesitated to go to with his short-handed roster, but the Tigers full-court pressed, forced some timely turnovers and stole a lead in the final minutes.
Rams senior Bjorn Carlson had a chance to tie it with 23 seconds left from the free-throw line but missed both shots, propelling Hayden to just its fourth win of the season.
“We were juiced then,” Luppes said about forcing the late turnovers. “When you’re juiced like that, you get that little extra energy down the stretch. We’ve got three experienced seniors. All of them knew what we had to do.”
Hayden looked to dictate things early, slowing down the tempo and throwing multiple looks at Soroco big man Ryan Jeep down low. Hayden took a 9-8 first-quarter lead, turned it into a 20-19 halftime advantage and used its swarming defense in the fourth to hold the Rams to just six points in the last eight minutes.
“We just took care of the ball,” Bridges said. “We made sure we stopped Jeep as much as we could and their offensive threats.”
Bridges finished with a game-high 18 points to go along with six rebounds. Engle had eight points, Frentress finished with six and Redmond added five.
Jeep had a team-high 15 points, 10 of which came in the first half.
Soroco senior Matt Regan added nine points, and Carl Rossi added six.
With the district tournament beginning with Tuesday’s pigtail games, the win for Hayden and loss for Soroco could shake up the seeding.
The Rams, at 10-9 and 5-6 in league play, had a chance to lock up the No. 5 seed but could slip as low as the No. 7 seed after the loss, depending on what happens with Hayden on Saturday.
The Tigers host North Park on Saturday afternoon for the opportunity to jump up to the No. 6 seed, which could make a big difference come Tuesday, Luppes said.
“We’ve talked all week,” Luppes said. “This is a two-game weekend, and the difference in these two games is going to No. 1 Paonia, who we didn’t play well against, or winning two games and going to Rangely, who we felt like we should have beaten the first time around.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll