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RANGELY I Panther senior Mason Fortunato hit two clutch free throws with less than three seconds to play to give his team a one point victory (63-62) over the Dragons Friday last in DeBeque. The Panthers, who have been battling sickness the past couple of weeks, were not healthy enough to beat the Plateau Valley Cowboys the following day. Rangely will now finish the regular season on the road, playing in Meeker Friday and in Paonia Saturday, before the first round of the district tournament starts next Tuesday.
“The game in DeBeque was a lot closer than I would’ve liked it,” head coach Eric Hejl said. “We’ve been battling sickness for the last two weeks with our entire team and that left us missing some key players. Cameron (Enterline) didn’t make the trip, and Connor (Phelan) and Chas (Byerly) tried to give it a go but weren’t effective.”
The Panthers trailed 14-17 after the first quarter and matched the Dragons’ 18 points in the second period to trail by three at halftime.
“It was a physical game with a lot of fouling and defensively it seemed like we were a step slow,” Hejl said. “We found ourselves in a dog fight that we really hadn’t expected but thanks to a few key plays down the stretch, we were able to sneak out with a win.”
Hejl said “Cory (Evans) hit a couple of big shots from the outside and Colt Allred was able to finish a couple of buckets on the interior in the fourth quarter.”
Hejl said the game came down to Fortunato “hitting two clutch free throws with 2.8 second left to give us a one point lead that ended up being the difference in the game.
“Although the game didn’t go exactly how we envisioned it, a win is a win and I’ll take it even if it was a little ugly,” coach Hejl said.
David Contreras led the Panthers with 18 points, Evans had 13 and Kody Denny finished with 12. Ethan Peacock scored eight, while Fortunato and Allred each added six.
Hejl said his team was a little healthier Saturday but “there were undoubtedly still some lingering effects from the sickness we’d been battling.”
“Cameron and Connor once again tried to give it a go but it was obvious that their legs still weren’t quite there,” Hejl said.
Hejl said the Panthers came out to play in the first half, leading 20-19 after the first quarter and tied at 39 at halftime.
“We got some good contributions from Mason and Cory in the first half,” Hejl said. “Cory Evans was 2-for-2 from two point range and 3-for-3 from “beyond the arc and really gave us the boost we needed to keep the game within reach, going into the second half,” Hejl said. “I knew we were going to have to buckle down defensively in the second half if we wanted to have a chance, but unfortunately we weren’t able to get it done. Fatigue set in as we got into the fourth quarter and the Panthers lost 67-83.”
Denny and Evans both finished with 16 points, Fortunato scored 14 and Peacock finished in double figures with 10.
“I was pleased with the effort on Saturday but it still stings to let a game slip away when you know that you were completely capable of getting it done,” Hejl said.