Bears honor ailing teammate with win over Aspen
Special to the Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
RIFLE, Colo. – Tears were still welled up in the eyes of Rian Creech long after his team had left the locker room Saturday night. Unlike in the past 48 hours, however, these were tears of joy.
Creech and his teammates on the Rifle High boys basketball team had ridden an emotional roller coaster in the past 48 hours. That came thanks to the news of their teammate, junior Austin Booth, who earlier this week was put into the intensive care unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction with pneumonia.
That proverbial emotional roller coaster came to a high point against Aspen. Creech scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, and the Bears rallied from an early 18-point deficit for a 59-48 Class 3A Western Slope League victory.
Creech and his teammates were preparing to make the trip down to Grand Junction to see their teammate after the game, and they already knew what they were going to say to him.
“This was for you, baby!” Creech said.
Creech also had 12 rebounds, Von Church added 15 points and Taylor Boone chipped in 10 for Rifle, which lost a down-to-the-wire game to Coal Ridge the night before. This time the Bears got down big early, yet chipped away at the lead before closing the game out in the final minutes.
“I told them after the game that I have never been more proud of any team, playoffs or otherwise, than I have of this team tonight,” Rifle coach Chris Lowther said. “No team I’ve had has ever faced this kind of situation with one of our brothers in such bad shape right now.
“It’s something I didn’t know how to deal with, and they didn’t know either,” the coach continued. “We played the way we needed to play tonight.”
Jake Nugent had 15 points and Bridger Dawson 13 to lead Aspen, which was limited to just 10-of-26 shooting (38 percent) in the second half and 21-for-59 shooting (36 percent) for the game. The Skiers, however, were dominant early on and took full advantage of Rifle’s 11 first-quarter turnovers.
The Bears (4-5 overall, 3-1 in the 3A WSL) were playing for the second consecutive game without Booth. The emotional toll was apparent in the game’s early stages, as the Skiers went up 21-3 on a 3-pointer from McCall Kauss to begin the second.
After a timeout, the Bears put together a run of their own. A jumper from Boone not only ended an eight-minute span where the Skiers held the Bears without a field goal, but it sparked a 13-0 run that got Rifle back in the game.
A 3 from Creech brought Rifle within 26-21 at halftime, and the last of Church’s three 3s at the end of the third cut Aspen’s lead to 44-40.
Creech, a 6-foot-2 senior, became the go-to guy from there. He scored 12 of Rifle’s first 16 points of the fourth quarter, and his three-point play off a putback with 2 minutes, 28 seconds remaining gave the Bears a 56-48 lead.
“Rian’s not very tall, but he’s always big,” Lowther said.
And big wasn’t the only word Rifle used to describe their come-from-behind victory.
“We had everybody stepping up,” Creech said. “We had seniors, sophomores, freshmen, everybody stepping up and playing for Austin.”
Cortney Cordova had a game-high 26 points to lead three Rifle players in double figures as the unbeaten Bears (9-0 overall, 4-0 WSL) rolled past Aspen.
Makayla Wilkins added 16 points and Racheal Keithley 13 for Rifle, which led by as much as 32-4 early on. Cordova also hit three 3-pointers.
Jonelle Berklund had 13 points and Bailey Everhart 21 to lead the Skiers.
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