With three games remaining in the regular season the Hotchkiss Bulldogs are coming on strong in the 2A Western Slope conference.
On Friday Hotchkiss welcomed Rangely with a 61-47 conference win.
Before the game the team talked about starting strong, said senior Zach Allen, who scored 12 of his game-high 19 points in the first half and sank two three-pointers early in the first period. "You play a good first quarter, it kind of sets the tone for the game."
Braxton Trujillo added four first-period goals to give Hotchkiss a 23-9 lead heading into the second period. They led by 16 at the half.
Rangely scored six unanswered points to start the second half. Hotchkiss answered with three-pointers by Trujillo and Allen to take back control of the board for the remainder of the game.
Sam Rodriguez ended the game with 13 points, and Trujillo scored a season-high 15 points. Juniors Eli Sawatzky put six points on the board, and Jonathan Gonzalez, Chandler Widner and Eli Kirk each added two.
The team hopes to carry the momentum into the remainder of the season, said Allen.
After the win Allen said the team wanted to carry the momentum to Meeker on Saturday. "They're definitely a physical team," he said. The team will "just go out and play physical and play hard. That's all we can ask for."
They played hard, upsetting Meeker, 47-35, and handing the Cowboys their first conference loss of the season. The loss dropped Meeker into the No. 2 spot in 2A District 5 standings behind Paonia.
"Meeker is a hard place to win," said head coach Eric Hollembeak. He called the win a team effort, and gave much of the credit to the defense. Players "flew around the floor, blocking passes, denying lanes, and upsetting their passing game. "When they shot, we boxed out really well and got the rebound."
Junior guard Sam Rodriguez put a game-high 20 points on the board. "Sam played well." He made good decisions anda passed the ball when he needed to. "When he shot, they went in."
Hollembeak said he tries to get every player on the floor during each game, but was only able to pull four from the bench against Meeker. The bench contributed points, deflected passes, denied the passing game, and stole the ball. They also gave starters much-needed rest. "In the fourth that made a huge difference."
Eli Kirk, Zach Allen and Braxton Trujillo all made big contributions to the defensive effort, said Hollembeak. In the third, Braxton's efforts were central to holding Meeker to a single point for the period.
Mario Espinoza, Eli Sawatzky, Kirk and Gabe Rodriquez combined for 12 points in the win. Trujillo scored six, and Allen added nine.
"This is kind of where I thought we'd be at this time of year," said Hollembeak. "We're just starting to scratch the surface of what we're capable of."
Hotchkiss has two more home games scheduled, beginning this Friday against West Grand (7-9, 4-5), and a non-conference game Saturday against North Park (5-9, 4-6, 1A District 1). Seniors Mario Espinoza, Gabe Rodriguez and Allen will be honored before the start of the game.
The Bulldog girls continue to improve, but couldn't find the win last week against Rangely and Meeker.
Against Rangely (12-4 overall, 6-1 2A Western Slope), Hotchkiss trailed, 21-3, at the end of the first period. They outscored the Panthers, 12-13, in the second period, but were unable to keep the momentum going in the third. They were outplayed in the fourth and ended the game with a 70-46 loss.
The team failed to come out strong in the first quarter, which hurt them for the remainder of the game, said first-year head coach Hailley Taylor. "Once we got some life back into the team and started to play and step up," they showed what they are capable of.
With only one senior, Lacey Rodriguez, and three freshmen on the varsity on the roster, Taylor is working to build the team from the ground up. Rodriquez, the point guard, put nine points on the board and fed the ball to sophomore Kaiya Firor, who scored a team-high 15 points.
Freshman Shay Glaser scored six of her eight points for the game on steals. She's one of the more skilled of the three varsity freshmen, said Taylor. "We're trying to break her out of her shell. The more she steps up and plays, the better she gets."
Center Carson Collins was averaging almost nine points per game. The Panthers put their best defensive players against her, holding the six-foot-plus sophomore to two field goals and four points. Point guard Kaleigh Little added two points.
On Saturday, Collins scored 15 points and Firor scored 12 in the Bulldogs' 67-49 loss at Meeker. They are now 2-6 in league action, and 5-10 overall. The girls host West Grand (12-4 overall, 5-3 2A/1A Western Slope conference) Friday at 6 p.m., and North Park (2-11, 2-2 1A District 1) at 1 p.m. Saturday. The game also marks Senior Night and will honor Rodriguez.
In looking ahead, five-foot, 10-inch sophomores MaKayla Helm, who didn't play this weekend, and Jenny McDonald "are where it's going to be for Hotchkiss's future," said Taylor. "They're really going to come out strong, and the more they play together, the better they'll be together."
Firor has led the team in scoring all season and is also a defensive specialist. After losing one of their best players in December, she stepped up to become the lead shooter.
Taylor said she inherited a good program from Coach Hollembeak, who took over as boys' head coach this season. Their coaching methods are very different, said Taylor. "I think they've come leaps and bounds" from where they were at the start of the season.
"They're very coach-able," said assistant coach Ken Sokol. "Maybe you don't see it in the win and loss column, but they're getting better every day."
Taylor was able to spend some time with the girls last summer. She's scheduling summer camps in June. To fund the trips, team members are selling raffle tickets for a 40-inch flat screen TV. Tickets are available through Feb. 11, with the drawing to be held Saturday during the North Park games.