Longhorn girls eke out win over Rifle | AspenTimes.com

Longhorn girls eke out win over Rifle

Jon MaletzAspen, CO Colorado

Basalt's Connor Rakowski dribbles past Rifle's Joe Burgess Thursday night at Basalt High School. The Longhorns lost their season opener, 76-31. (Jim Paussa/The Aspen Times)

BASALT Just 5.3 seconds remained on the clock when senior guard Kat Fitzpatrick stepped to the free throw line. The Longhorns, who had roared back after a lackluster first half against 4A Rifle, clung to a 57-54 lead. Despite going 3 of 10 from the line in the quarter, they needed just one of two from Fitzpatrick to fall. She delivered. Fitzpatrick nailed the first shot – her 13th point in the second half and 15th overall – to stretch the lead to 4. Bears guard Alissa Skinner’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was dramatic, but ultimately inconsequential as Basalt prevailed, 58-57.”No matter what the score is, every free throw counts,” Fitzpatrick said. “[Rifle] is always our first game and one of our biggest challenges.”Just five points separated the two teams in their last three meetings. The Longhorns, the state runner-up last season and top 3A team in the Rocky Mountain News’ preseason rankings, pulled out a 56-54 win in 2005 but fell in the season opener last season. It was clear from the start Thursday that neither team would pull away in a first half rife with turnovers, sloppy play and errant shots. Back-to-back scores from junior Melissa Stewart inside of two minutes remaining in the first quarter knotted the score at 10. Stewart hit one of two from the line on the ensuing possession, then Emily Peetz nailed a three from the corner as time expired to stretch the lead to 14-10. The advantage was short-lived. Stewart hit a three early in the second to give Basalt a 19-14 lead, but the Bears racheted up the pressure. Rifle closed the half on an 11-2 run, highlighted by three buckets in transition and dominance on the offensive glass. Rifle’s Kelsey Pile and Quincey Snyder controlled missed Bears free throws and completed put-backs during the run. The Longhorns generated multiple scoring chances with their signature up-tempo play, but struggled to capitalize on multiple opportunities inside the paint. They trailed by five at the half, after being outscored in the second quarter, 16-7.”We missed a lot of shots, which is atypical, but there was no shortage of creating,” Basalt head coach Carolyn Compton said.

Rifle built on its momentum at the start of the third, opening on a 7-2 run to push its lead to 10 in the early going. Six of those points came from Snyder who twice beat Longhorns defenders on the offensive glass, then backed down Dayne Toney for a tough two.

When her team needed her most, Fitzpatrick responded. The senior, who scored just twice during a quiet first half, scored six points in the final three minutes of the quarter as the Longhorns cut the deficit in half. Fitzpatrick helped Basalt pull even at 43 when, with 6:55 to play, she drove the basket, absorbed a bump and scored. She sank the ensuing free throw.”It took the first few quarters for us to start playing our game, but we got it together,” she said. “The first half was an eye-opener, but we came out stronger and worked harder. It paid off.”Fitzpatrick converted in transition with 4:55 to put the Longhorns up, 48-47. They wouldn’t relinquish the lead the rest of the way. Toney scored off a steal to stretch the lead to three, then senior Alia Munger hit a shot from the corner to give her team a five-point cushion. Toney finished with nine points.

Chelsea Webb’s 3-pointer, coupled with poor foul shooting from the Longhorns, helped Rifle to pull within two at 56-54 with 53 seconds remaining. Peetz and Fitzpatrick both hit one of two from the line in the final 20 seconds to help Basalt escape.”I asked [my team] what their thought process was letting them shoot those last two threes,” Compton said. “We had to fight it out, but we knew it was going to be like this … It can only go up from here.”Rifle boys 76, Basalt 31The Longhorns couldn’t stop the Rust brothers.Bears senior guard Tyler Rust scored on the opening tip, just four seconds into Thursday’s game. He and brother Scott kept the pressure coming, overwhelming the Basalt defense with a barrage of long jumpers and transition baskets.

The duo scored 28 of Rifle’s 36 first-half points and outscored the Longhorns by 10 by themselves over that stretch. The Bears silenced the gym by taking a 26-8 lead after eight minutes, and went on to rout Basalt, 76-31.The tandem combined to score 41 points. Scott, just a sophomore, led all scorers with 25. He connected from beyond the arc three times during a first half in which his 16 – including all 10 of Rifle’s second-quarter points – helped the Bears pull away. Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is jmaletz@aspentimes.com