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RANGELY I The final game for the Rangely boys’ basketball team was played in Durango against Sangre de Cristo in the semifinal round of a state-qualifying regional tournament. The Panthers were eliminated in a 40-34 loss.
However, head coach Eric Hejl said it was the “best” season in his four years and that saying goodbye to some players was “emotional.”
“In our last game against Sangre de Cristo, we had a lot of nerves going,and I think it really affected us in the first quarter,” Hejl said. “Our defense was pretty good all night, and once we got some shooting in the second half we were able to close the gap and actually take a lead late in the third quarter.”
But the Panthers were unable to hold the lead. Sangre de Cristo took time off the clock with their offense and, down by four with 1:30 left to play, the Panthers had to foul.
“Unfortunately for us, they made their free throws late and we couldn’t climb back in,” Hejl said. “In the end, we had just dug too big a hole against a good ‘grind it out’ team like ourselves and, in a lot of ways, they just kind of beat us at our own game Friday night.”
Coach Hejl later reflected on the season.
“It was a rough way for the season to end and surely it ended sooner than it should have, but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys to take this journey with,” Hejl said.
“In virtually every way – work ethic, academics, off-court behavior – this season has been the best we’ve had since I took over for Mark (Skelton) four seasons ago. That includes five more wins than these seniors had in a season so far and a preseason tournament championship at the Cowboy Shootout in Meeker.” Adding to thoughts of the season ending too soon, Hejl explained.
“It still stings and makes you go through all of the ‘what ifs” when you know a team we beat two out of three times (Meeker) is at the big dance and we are sitting at home on spring break.”
The Panthers will miss seniors Cameron Enterline, Andrew Morton and Connor Phelan, but coach Hejl is excited about the future of the Panthers basketball program.
“We are losing some senior firepower for sure and it was a little emotional for me to say goodbye, especially since Cameron and Connor have been with me since they were my managers as sixth graders. But looking forward, I think with what we have coming back (Colt Allred, Mitchell Webber, Kaulan Brady, Lanye Mecham and Kelton Elam) and with a couple of eighth graders coming in who could possibly contribute on varsity right away, we should be able to reload and give it a great run again starting this summer.
“I’d like to think these last four years of Panthers basketball has been spent re-instilling a ‘winner’s mentality’ and a sense of what it really takes to be champions,” Hejl said. “For now, our only choice is to move on, control what we can and approach this summer with a winning, get-better attitude and do something I tell our guys all the time, and that is to do the next right thing right.”
Most of all, Coach Hejl wanted to thank his players.
“Thanks for all the work you guys put in on what will always be a special season to me,” Hejl said. “You’ve all made me a better person and I hope your basketball experience will somehow help shape the amazing people you’ll become and the great things I know you will accomplish as you move on to the ‘next play’ in life. I love you guys, thanks again!”