The Hotchkiss Bulldogs overcame missed opportunities and a sluggish third quarter last Thursday to win their conference game against Paonia by a score of 55-50. The game marked the first win over their rival since 2013.
Hotchkiss controlled the board for much of the game, leading 19-14, at the end of first-quarter play. Blocks by Braxton Trujillo and Jacob Stucker helped maintain the Bulldogs' lead.
A three-point goal late in the quarter by Sean Devlin pulled Paonia to within eight points and the Eagles trailed, 32-24, at the half.
Hotchkiss came out sluggish in the third quarter, missing easy shots and letting Paonia back into the game. Eagle Enoch Kropp tied the game at 32-32 with 5:20 remaining in the quarter. Paonia took a one-point lead on free throws, and a goal from the top of the key by Slater Podgorny gave Paonia its first lead of the game.
Bulldogs point guard Sam Rodriguez tied the game up at 35-35 on a three-pointer, and a goal in the paint by Stucker put Hotchkiss back into the lead. The Bulldogs led, 41-35, heading into the final quarter.
Hotchkiss' Eli Kirk scored two points from the free throw line early in the fourth. With eight fouls for the Dogs, Kropp turned a trip to the line into two more points for Paonia, and Podgorny pulled the Eagles to within four on a jump shot.
With five minutes remaining in the game, and the crowd growing louder with every score, Trujillo scored two from just inside the top of the arc. Eagle David Lozano capitalized on a trip to the line, and two consecutive three-pointers by Devlin pulled Paonia to within a point of tying the game.
Hotchkiss capitalized on two turnovers, and an intentional foul sent Kirk to the line, where he increased the lead to 52-48. The Bulldogs quickly forced another turnover, and Eli Sawatzky put the game out of reach for Paonia, sinking a two-pointer with 7.7 seconds on the clock to give Hotchkiss a 54-48 lead.
"It was a team effort," said Hotchkiss head coach Eric Hollembeak.
Now 3-1 in the 2A/1A Western Slope conference, the Bulldogs were coming off of a disappointing nine-point loss to 1A De Beque. "We didn't play very good last weekend and we needed to prove that we could play hard," said Hollembeak. "We needed to come out and play a good game today."
For the seniors, the game marked the first win over Paonia. But the team still isn't where it should be, said Hollembeak. Their shooting percentages were low, they missed a lot of opportunities, and they let Paonia back in the game in the second half. "I'm happy with the win, but as a performance, we should have played a lot better," he said.
Conference play continues. Hotchkiss hosts Hayden (0-5, 1-10) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and Soroco (1-5, 3-9) at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Paonia faces another challenge this Friday at Vail Christian (10-2, 6-1). The Saints have scored more than 60 points per game all season, including a 101-point game against Eagle Valley in December. Paonia hosts De Beque (8-2, 3-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday.