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RANGELY I It will come down to one game.
The Panthers will meet Plateau Valley on Friday in their final regular-season game. There’s a lot riding on the outcome.
“It’s a very important game for us,” said Rangely boys’ basketball coach Mark Skelton. “A win or loss can mean the difference between seventh or eighth place and third or fourth place (in the Western Slope League).”
Meeker, Hayden and Soroco are at the top of the league standings, while five other teams have three, four or five league wins.
Rangely’s regular-season finale will be an away game.
“I hope our kids will be ready,” Skelton said.
Last week, the Panthers won one game — against De Beque on Friday — but lost to Grand Valley on Tuesday and county rival and No. 2-ranked Meeker on Saturday, in Rangely’s last regular-season home game.
Against Grand Valley — a 65-32 loss — the Panthers didn’t know what hit ’em.
“It was a catastrophe,” Skelton said. “Grand Valley has some really good athletes. They only suited up nine players, but they could all attack the basket. They were a very fast team. They were a buzz saw. From the get-go, they were off and running, and we were in a whole different gear.”
While the Panthers got off to a slow start against De Beque, they got it going in the second half and won going away 75-51. Patrick Phelan scored 25 points, while Mark Perzinski had a season-high 21 points.
“We started out kind of sluggish,” Skelton said. “In the second half, the kids started playing better defense, forcing some turnovers, and we ended up winning pretty big.”
Then came the game against Meeker — a rematch of when the two teams met earlier in the season at the Cowboy Shootout, with Rangely losing 72-49. Again, the state-ranked Cowboys won big, this time 77-39.
“They’re very tough,” Skelton said of Meeker. “They have size, speed and they shoot the ball very well, and they’re deep. It’s nice to have that kind of talent come off the bench.”
Rangely was no match for the Cowboys’ size. The Panthers have one player over 6-foot tall — Kindal Cushman at 6-1 — while Meeker’s starting lineup includes four players 6-2 or taller.
“We don’t have the firepower to stop that,” Skelton said. “I don’t want to ever say (the lack of team height) is an excuse, that’s wrong, but it is a disadvantage. That’s just the way it is.”
Besides having a much shorter lineup, Rangely’s top scorer, Phelan, was held to a season-low three points, all on free throws. Phelan scored 31 points in the previous meeting with Meeker.
“He had a terrible shooting night,” Skelton said of Phelan, who had been averaging 20 some points per game. “The shots just didn’t fall. It was one of those nights.”