Rock Canyon and Castle View may have been eliminated from the Continental League's boys basketball title chase but the schools recent clash was nothing short of important.
Wins in the concluding regular season games are vital for both teams to improving seeding for the 48-team Class 5A state playoffs that are scheduled to begin Feb. 27.
Neither team put on much of an offensive show on Feb. 13 but the Jaguars notched a 46-35 victory over the Sabercats in a game played at Rock Canyon's Jungle.
“Oh man, any win is important in this league,” said Rock Canyon coach Kent Grams. “There are no easy teams in this league.”
Rock Canyon improved to 4-5 in the league and 11-10 overall with the victory. The Jaguars then played at Heritage Feb. 18 and wind up the league campaign with a Feb. 21 game at ThunderRidge.
Castle View saw its record dip to 3-6 and 9-12 overall. The Sabercats had a Feb. 18 game at ThunderRidge before a regular season finale against Douglas County.
“It was a huge game,” acknowledged Castle View coach Tory Mansfield. “We're in the middle of our league with Rock Canyon and ThunderRidge. It was a devastating loss for us. We could have gotten ahead of Rock Canyon and ThunderRidge. Now we are behind both.”
Rock Canyon started quickly, grabbing a 17-10 first quarter lead, and then survived a scoring famine in a low-scoring second period when the teams combined to score only 10 points. The Jaguars went ahead 20-12 on a three-point play by Luke Ewan with 6:44 in the second stanza but didn't score again for nearly seven minutes until Evan Noyes' basket with two seconds remaining in the half.
Fortunately for Rock Canyon, Castle View could only outscore the Jaguars 3-2 during the 6:44 before intermission.
“They switched to a zone and we had a hard time making shots,” explained Grams. “They got us out of our flow. We had 17 points in the first quarter, we had a hard time adjusting to what they did in their zone. … You have to give a lot of credit to their defense. They must focus on defense a lot because they are in a lot of games.”
Poor shooting, however, doomed the Sabercats.
Castle View shot 28.6 percent from the floor and was held to its lowest point output of the season.
“We shoot a lot of 3's and some of them were good looks,” said Mansfield. “But we shot 2-for-16. You can't beat these guys coming up here and scoring 35 points.
“Rock Canyon's defense was very good. … We didn't make shots. We had our chances. I can't shoot for them.”
Rock Canyon shot 42.4 percent from the floor and was led by senior Eli Hirsch with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Junior Tyler Garcia added 13 points for the Jaguars.
“Eli played really well,” said Grams. “He's had a yearlong (hip) injury and we're so happy to have him back. … He's still getting his legs under him and figuring out our system again, but he can really shoot the ball.”
Hirsch, playing in his sixth game of the season, following a year of rehabilitation, had nine points in the fourth quarter and swished four free throws as Rock Canyon made 9-of-12 attempts from the foul line in the final 1:24 to preserve the win.
“In the last five games we've had a lot of pressure situations, a lot of close games and we've missed those free throws,” noted Grams. “We have a lot of young players that need to step up and learn that they can make them. We did survive a lot. It was a gritty win against Castle View.”
Matt Dowsey, who scored all of Castle View's five points in the third quarter, led the Sabercats with 12 points.