Delta coach Von Mitchell wasn't sure how long it would take, but he had an idea his Delta Panther basketball team could be a contender in the tough 4A WSL.
After a frustrating 0-4 start to their season, the Panthers are now seeing the fruits of their efforts in practice as they climbed to the top of the 4A WSL with a pair of wins over the weekend and now have a 5-4 overall record and are 3-0 in league play.
One of those wins came against the previous league-leading Glenwood Springs Demons who hosted Delta on Jan. 10 and boasted a 4-0 league mark and a 9-0 overall slate going into the game. Delta's big first-half lead was enough to hold off the Demons for a 55-44 victory.
On Jan. 11, the Steamboat Springs Sailors held a lead late in the game only to be thwarted by Keaton Reiher's free throws with just 1.5 seconds left in the game. Reiher's two shots from the stripe gave Delta a 48-47 win.
On the girls side of the ledger, Delta put a real scare into the league-leading Glenwood Springs Lady Demons as they held leads of up to eight points before heading to halftime down one, 27-26. A rough fourth quarter proved to be the difference in the game with Glenwood rolling to a 63-44 win.
On Saturday, Delta played well for four quarters on its way to a 50-30 rout over the visiting Lady Sailors from Steamboat Springs.
Delta 55, Glenwood 44
The two teams battled to a 7-7 tie after one period of play. The Panthers were more aggressive than their hosts in the second frame and raced to a 17-8 advantage that essentially provided the margin of victory in the game. Delta held a narrow 24-15 lead going to the break.
Junior Cade Gafford provided the spark that ignited Delta's 17-8 run in the second quarter. Gafford scored seven of the 17 points the Panthers posted, with Reiher adding another five.
Eian Baier had the lucky seven total in the third for Delta to help the Panthers stay close to Glenwood which had a 17-14 edge in scoring in the period. Glenwood's Jared Gambrel scored eight points in the period for the Demons. Delta took a 38-32 lead into the final quarter and then managed to hold off the host team as both teams produced 17 points to post the final score of 55-44. Gafford led the way for Delta with another seven points and finished as the game's leading scorer with 17 points.
Brian Burbidge hit a pair of threes and Gambrel had five points to pace the Demons in the period.
Reiher had three treys in the game and finished with 12 points while teammate Baier tallied 11 points for the Panthers. Gambrel's 13 led Glenwood with Burbidge adding 10.
Delta 48, SS 47
This contest was almost as close in the early stages as the Glenwood game. The Panthers held a slim two-point lead after one period (10-8) but trailed by five at the half. Carter Kounovsky's eight points in the first half kept the Sailors in the thick of things. Matthew Lanning and Brody King added six and five points to the totals in Steamboat's first-half scoring.
The game remained close in the third quarter with Steamboat adding three to its lead with a 19-16 spurt. King dumped in three shots from beyond the arc and finished with 10 points in the period. Ryan Whiteside was good for seven counters for Delta over the same time span.
Delta's big push came in the final quarter in a 16-7 surge that was capped by the heroics of Reiher with his two free throws. Reiher had five points in the period when he was fouled with under two seconds left in the game.
When asked what was going through his mind as he stepped to the line for his free throws, Keaton was calm with his answer. "I knew I was going to make the shots. I've been prepared in practice for this." Mitchell praised Keaton for the ice water in his veins in a post-game conversion.
GS 63, Delta 44
The Lady Panthers were the more aggressive team through much of the first half and at times were able to keep a six- to eight-point lead. Glenwood managed to finally get its defense to cause enough stops which allowed its offense opportunities to catch up.
Delta's first-half efforts were keyed by Brittanny Brasfield's eight points, with six coming in a 17-10 first-quarter run. Madi Spence, the game's leading scorer with 22 points, spurred Glenwood's first half of play with nine points.
The two teams reversed their outcomes in the second period with the Lady Demons outscoring Delta 17-9 for the 27-26 Glenwood lead at the break.
Delaney Gaddis and Spence led the charge out of the intermission with seven and five points respectively for Glenwood. Haley Millard had the best game of her season for Delta with nine points, including a seven-of-eight night at the free-throw line. Four of those free throws came in the third quarter, along with four points from freshman Lily Lockhart, to keep Delta close in a 14-10 run for Glenwood.
A lack of rebounding in the fourth quarter was one of the key factors in the Lady Panthers' loss. Many of the seven shots taken in the paint by Glenwood were uncontested, contributing to the Lady Demon's success down the stretch. A 22-8 run by Glenwood was the result, making the final score 63-44.
Katie Puderbaugh's 10 points topped the list of scorers for Delta, with teammates Millard and Shelby Curtis chipping in nine apiece.
Delta 50, SS 30
Delta was resting in fifth-place before the Lady Sailors arrived for their Saturday afternoon game in Delta. Steamboat was listed in fourth place. The two teams swapped places after the Lady Panthers scored a 50-30 WSL win.
Glenwood Springs continues to lead the league at 5-0 and 9-0, with Palisade listed second at 3-1 and 6-2. Eagle Valley is third at 3-1 and 7-3 and then Delta with its 1-2 and 3-6 records.
Delta is still in the hunt for a fourth consecutive league title as it has return games with the two teams that have beaten it in WSL play (Glenwood Springs and Eagle Valley).
Delta eased its way to a 9-5 lead after one period of play behind the four points of Desiree Smith.
The Lady Panthers' defense was solid in the first half, with Steamboat scoring just five points in each of the first-half quarters. Delta carried a 20-10 lead to halftime.
Third-quarter play was slow for both teams, with Delta holding a 13-8 scoring advantage and a 33-18 lead to the fourth frame.
Millard's play in the final stanza produced seven points and numerous rebounds in a 17-12 edge for the Lady Panthers. Millard and Curtis finished with nine points for the second straight game. Lockhart's 13 markers were the game's top totals, with Annie Osbourn scoring nine for the Lady Sailors.
Delta will face two 4A WSL opponents this week. Friday's contest will pit the Panthers against Rifle in away games. The Lady Panthers are slated to begin play at 6 p.m. and the boys take the floor at 7:30 p.m. Summit comes to town on Saturday with the varsity games set for 1 and 4 p.m. respectively. On Tuesday, Jan. 21, Delta visits Palisade for games at 6 and 7:30 p.m.