Photo by Tamie Meck Vail Christian forward Kevin Boselli watches Paonia’s Ben Linnell’s slam-dunk in the final seconds of the Eagles’ 70-66 win Friday over the visiting Saints.Friday night's court battle between Paonia and visiting Vail Christian was another nail-biter. Paonia held the lead throughout the first half and led by nine going into the third period.
The Saints, led by shooting guard Robby Bowles' game-high 25 points, chipped away at Paonia's lead, and in the opening seconds of the fourth Bowles sank a three to give the Saints a one-point lead.
Two weeks earlier, the Eagles lost two conference games, including one against top-ranked Hayden, each by a single point. Paonia has won the last three games by a total of 12 points.
"It was nerve-wracking," said freshman Taylor Walters, who scored a team-high 21 points. "When they got a point ahead, I thought, 'Oh, geez, this is going to be another one of those close games."
Ben Linnell, who had been quiet throughout the first half, answered Bowles' points with a three-pointer of his own to put Paonia back in the lead for good.
The Eagles ended the game with a 70-66 conference win. "It was not an easy game," said Jason Sturgis, who scored a career-high 16 points in the win. "We knew that they were going to be a challenge. They're not a lay-down team."
Sturgis hadn't forgotten last year's 27-point loss to the Saints. "One big thing the team talked about is how we have to want to win it," said Sturgis. "I mean, it was all want."
With less than a minute to go, Paonia was in foul trouble. Starting forward Lane Clawson and point guard Taylor Katzer each had four infractions.
The Saints had fouls to spare. Paonia clung to a two-point lead with 18 seconds remaining after an intentional foul sent Sturgis to the line, where he hit his first shot and missed the second. Paonia got the rebound and Josiah Spano was fouled, but missed.
Again Paonia got the ball, and Katzer went to the line, sinking both shots and leaving the Saints trailing by four with just 2 seconds remaining. Vail headed down court, and Walters ended the game on a steal. Spano, who is averaging almost 13 points per game, scored 13 on Friday.
Linnell finished the game with nine. Junior Eric Carney scored two points, but was a key player at both ends of the court.
"It feels good to get one of those," said head coach Chase Roeber of the win. "We've lost a lot of those. We needed one." Roeber credited the win to the entire team. "Everybody that played contributed. That was a great team win."
Paonia is now 5-8 overall, 3-3 in 2A Western Slope conference play, and is seventh in 2A/1/A league standings. But Friday's upset over No. 4 Vail Christian and its recent one-point loss to undefeated Hayden show that the team is finally coming together, said Roeber.
"We tried to go a little bit too far last week," in the 10-point loss to No. 5 West Grand, said Roeber. "We tried to run and gun a little too much... I think we got tired. We didn't shoot the ball extremely well. But today we had the right mix of pushing the floor and slowing it down and running our offense.
"Basically, we played well top to bottom tonight," said Roeber. "I think a big part of it is we really have kind of found ourselves."
On Saturday, Paonia defeated Vail Mountain, 75-52, at Vail. They hosted a make-up game Tuesday night against Rifle (scores weren't available at press time). This Friday's home games against Plateau Valley begin at 2 p.m. The boys varsity game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Following the game, the Eagles' wrestling team will dual Meeker.