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RANGELY I For the past three years, the Rangely Panthers boys’ basketball team has had to play in the pig-tail round of the district tournament, and for the past two years, the Panthers lost to end their season. Not this year. Barely.
Rangely defeated the Hayden Tigers, 37-36, to advance to the district tournament, as the No. 3 seed. They are scheduled to be play Paonia in Oak Creek on Friday.
“I’m just excited to get past this one and turn our attention to getting back to practice tomorrow and playing better against Paonia on Friday,” head coach Eric Hejl said of the pig-tail win, the first since this year’s seniors where freshmen.
The Panthers jumped out to a 14-4 lead after the first quarter was played, but they only scored four points in the second quarter to lead 18-12 at half.
“For a while there it seemed like everything that could go wrong, did go wrong,” Hejl said of his team’s play. “We had turnovers, missed free throws and some bad calls, but, in the end, the seniors got the win that has eluded them since they were freshmen.”
The Panthers scored eight in the third quarter but the Tigers added 13 and pulled within one with eight minutes to play.
Rangely pulled ahead by six early in the fourth quarter, but the Tigers led by one with 59 seconds left to play.
Colt Allred made a basket to give the Panthers a 37-36 lead and he was fouled in the process, missing the free throw. Both teams missed free throws on each end, and the Tigers got one last shot off at the buzzer, but missed.
“Hayden was a hungry team that did a great job of sticking to their game plan and the grind-it-out style they wanted,” Coach Hejl said. “We really would have liked to get the ball inside, but they really packed in their zone and dared us to take outside shots. Thankfully Connor (Phelan) stepped up and was the guy to really keep our heads above water.”
Phelan led the Panthers with 17 points, including three three-pointers. Senior classmate Cameron Enterline also made a three-pointer, finished with eight points and led the team with 12 rebounds. Allred finished with seven, Kaulan Brady made a three-pointer and senior Andrew Morton added a basket.
The Panthers will be the No. 3 seed in the district tournament and play No. 2 Paonia, Friday in Oak Creek, with the tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Meeker will be the No. 1 seed in the district tournament and will play the No. 4 West Grand Mustangs on Friday at 6 p.m.
The teams will play for seeds in next week’s state-qualifying regional tournaments and “a district championship,” as Coach Hejl said.