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RANGELY — With most of the road trips out of the way, the Rangely boys’ basketball team was happy to be at home for a pair of important league games last weekend.
The Panthers had handled Vail Christian by 18 points earlier in the week, but Vail came out with a different intensity this time around, and had the Panthers down by seven at the end of the first quarter.
The intensity picked up a bit in the second, but the Cats still found themselves looking at a six-point deficit as the teams left for the locker rooms.
The third quarter was more back and forth, and Rangely was unable to make a dent in the Saints’ lead and a big fourth quarter was going to be needed for the Panthers to come away with a win.
It wasn’t looking good, as the Cats still trailed with two minutes to go. This is where things turned around.
Kanden Brady finished his best game of the year and picked a perfect time to come out of his slump at the free-throw line as he went 5-for-5 from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Unfortunately, Rangely was still trailing by three as the Panthers came down the court for their final possession of regulation.
Patrick Phelan, who had been held scoreless for the first 31 minutes, 58 seconds of the game picked the perfect time to hit a 25-foot 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.
Not to be overlooked, a great screen set by Michael Morton freed Phelan for the open look, something that doesn’t show up in the stat book. The Panthers only came up with five points in OT, but solid defense was the deciding factor as they limited Vail to only two points (both off of free throws), and Rangely held on for a 54-51 victory. Brady led Rangely with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Adam Dahl and Roman Chavez both found double figures with 11 and 10 points a piece.
The experience from the night before came in quite handy the next night against the Hayden Tigers. Rangely had already seen the Tigers twice this year and came away 1-1 in those matchups.
This was the rubber match and the most important of the season series, as it would be the only game of the three to count in the league standings.
This time Phelan wasn’t going to wait until late in the game to get going. He scored in each of the four quarters and helped the Panthers make sure they didn’t dig themselves another hole like they did the previous night.
Even then, the Cats still trailed by three at the half and knew they would have to assert themselves defensively in the second half if they wanted a chance to win. They were able to hold Hayden to nine points in the third and take a narrow 39-37 lead going into the final stanza.
Extraordinary effort coupled with strong free-throw shooting (13 of 19) is what made all the difference for the Panthers. When the final buzzer sounded, Rangely looked up to see a five-point win on the scoreboard 58-53. Phelan led the Panthers’ scoring attack with 22 points, but a major key was the fact that eight different Panthers were able to contribute in the scoring column, and keep the Tiger defense off balance.
Two huge league games remain for the Cats as they will take on Meeker and Plateau Valley (currently No. 1 and No. 2) to complete their league schedule. This will be a great test for the Panthers, but if there is one thing this weekend proved, it’s that they have the ability to grind out wins when their backs are against the wall.