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Sailors top in league

Steamboat beats Rifle by 11 on Saturday

Melinda Mawdsley

As defending Western Slope League champions, the Steamboat Springs boys basketball team is counting on getting everyone’s best shot. The coaches know it. The players know it, and that is how they prefer it.

On Saturday, with timely free-throw shooting and poise down the stretch, Steamboat (13-2 overall, 7-0 in league) defeated Rifle, 70-59, to gain sole possession of first place in the league.

It was Steamboat’s second victory against Rifle (10-5, 6-1) this season. The first came in the semifinals of the inaugural league tournament in December. The two will meet again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Rifle.

“We knew when we played them at the beginning of the season they would be tough,” Steamboat senior Patrick Ayres said. “They have a strong defense, they have shooters, too.”

Unfortunately, both teams struggled a bit offensively with the herky-jerky feel of the game because of the number of fouls called. Five Bears fouled out, including several of their shooters, which made a comeback effort even more cumbersome.

Ayres fouled out midway through the fourth for Steamboat.

“We knew it was going to be physical,” Sailors coach Kelly Meek said. “This team won the state title in football. There were several times we could have pulled away and didn’t. It’s hard to break them. By the same standard, that’s the type of team we are, too.”

The Sailors took the lead on with 1 minute left in the first quarter and never trailed again, but it wasn’t until the closing minutes that everyone relaxed. Meek only used seven players until the closing seconds.

Senior Cameron Burney led all scorers with 25 points and 11 rebounds for Steamboat. Junior Scott Peterson added 18. Brandon Leuallen scored 20 for Rifle, slicing well to the basket and hitting outside shots. Bryan Cloninger chipped in with 10.

Steamboat built as much as a 12-point lead with 5:42 left in the fourth on Ayres three-point play. Rifle closed to within eight points with 3:47 left on Cloninger’s three-point play, but the Sailors made 11 of 14 free throw attempts down the stretch to close it out.

Coming into Saturday’s game, Rifle and Steamboat were unbeaten in the league and held a three-game advantage against everyone else, which Meek said surprised him. He expected several other teams to be fighting for the league title. Now, the league title is Steamboat’s should it win out.

“I’m starting to enjoy watching this team play,” Meek said. “I certainly didn’t early.”

Steamboat’s next game is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Moffat County in Craig.

— To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com


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