Head coach Michael Vandahl's message to his players before Thursday’s regular-season finale against Summit had nothing to do with winning or losing, league standings or even titles.
“This is the first time a lot of these players have been in this situation,” Vandahl said. “I wanted them to enjoy the moment.”
The Sailors, 8-4 in league play and 11-11 overall, responded with 56-47 victory. The win gives the Steamboat boys a share of the league title, and thanks to Eagle Valley’s 49-45 overtime loss to Battle Mountain, an automatic berth into the state playoffs.
Steamboat was in a race to the finish line as it prepared for the key Western Slope League meeting with Summit County. Steamboat came in tied with both Glenwood and Eagle Valley at 7-4 in the league. All three played Thursday. Steamboat and Glenwood won, but Eagle lost, eliminating them.
The first tiebreaker is head-to-head results, but Steamboat and Glenwood split their season series. The next tiebreaker is results against the league's next best team. Steamboat went 1-1 against Eagle while Glenwood went 0-2, giving the Sailors the edge.
Ethan Riniker led the Sailors' attack with 23 points. Mac Riniker added 17, and Tyler Doyne had four. Steamboat jumped out to a 15-11 lead in the first and held a 26-19 lead at the half. The Sailors took control of the game with 17 points in the third, then held Summit off down the stretch. Summit was led by Ilja Bubukin with 19 points.
“Summit's record doesn’t show how good a team they are. They are really quick and shoot the ball well,” Vandahl said. “I was really proud of how we buckled down on defense and finished the game off. It was a total team effort.”
The top 48 teams in Class 4A will open the state tournament next week with the top 16 teams receiving a first-round bye. League champs are automatically given a spot, no matter where they stand in the RPI rankings, so Steamboat's in.
“We just said, 'One more game,'" Vandahl said. "Our mantra since we started 2-4 has just been one-game seasons. We do have a share of the league title … I don’t know how it’s going to fall. But I’m really proud of the guys. They just took it one possession at a time, one game at a time.”