Flawless Cardinals soar past Tigers | SteamboatToday.com

Flawless Cardinals soar past Tigers

Dave Shively

— With as deep of a league as Mike Johnson has seen in his nine years coaching in the Class 2A Western Slope League (District 5), the Grand Valley girls basketball coach wasn’t about to take any chances in Hayden on Friday night.

The senior-loaded Grand Valley girls (16-3 overall) completed their league season undefeated, cruising past the Hayden girls 62-37. The Grand Valley boys followed suit, capping off an unbeaten league season by defeating Hayden, 82-47.

“This was a big win for us,” Johnson said of the win that earns his team an automatic berth to the regional tournament. “Now we’re safe – we didn’t want to mess around (at the district tournament) with a one-and-done upset.”

The Cardinals’ Kendall Babler opened the first two minutes of the game by draining three consecutive 3-point attempts on her way to 15 first half points.

Babler “hit those shots and it sort of deflates our players,” Hayden coach Stephanie Davis said of the immediate 11-1 hole. “But I was proud of how they scrapped back, and I thought some of our younger players, like Rachael Koehler, did great on the inside.”

Grand Valley’s half-court trap stymied any Hayden attempts at settled offense. The Tigers didn’t score a field goal until four minutes into the game (on an Elaine Cromie put-back).

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In the second quarter, with Hayden unable to hit gimme shots and Grand Valley beating the Hayden press and threading the needle for easy looks inside, the Cardinals jumped ahead 31-10. But the Tigers closed the first half on a promising 1 1/2-minute, 8-4 run, with Sierra Ehlers converting a 3-point play and Caitlin Mahanna nailing a 3-point shot at the halftime buzzer.

Grand Valley extended its lead 48-24 with a two-minute, eight-point run in the third quarter, which Holli Salazar, who led Hayden with nine points and six rebounds, ended by working the ball inside on a pair of possessions.

Although Hayden continued its full-court pressure into the fourth, it could not overcome the hefty deficit. Babler led all scorers with 17 points, Lauren Schubert added 14 and Whitney Ashcraft led all rebounders with nine.

“They got a lot of easy shots under the basket and we just couldn’t come back,” said Mahanna, who had eight points and four rebounds.

The defending state champion Grand Valley boys team hit the floor running, but Hayden hung with it step for step as both teams spread the floor, looking for easy points in transition. But as the Cardinals’ shots kept falling – mostly off the hand of Tyler Jensen, who scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the first quarter – the Tigers could not keep up.

Zach Barnes ignited Hayden’s offense in the second quarter, scoring nine of his 11 points by scrapping rebounds and finding seams in the Grand Valley defense.

The Cardinals’ speed took over in the second half, as the team went on a 16-2 run to establish a 74-36 lead that they held onto for the win.

Jordan Williams led Hayden with 17 points, with 10 points coming from Chuck Hines.

Hayden takes the court for its final regular season home games of the year today against Rangely. The girls tip-off at 6 p.m., followed by the boys at 7 p.m.