Tigers hope shooting woes end in playoffs
FARMER’S KORNER – The drill was perimeter shooting, and the Summit High School boys basketball team was putting on a clinic.
Paul Middel, Todd Heller, Casey Anderson – all the Tigers whose shaky shooting contributed to Summit’s 3-16 regular season – were draining 3-pointers from both sides of the floor. Head coach Mike Rathgeber was in the front row of the bleachers during this part of Thursday’s practice at SHS, as the Tigers prepared for today’s Class 4A district playoff game. He’s familiar with this shooting display. He just hasn’t seen it in a game since midseason.
“I’ve had to look at this all season,” said Rathgeber as another 3-pointer swished through. “This is what kept teasing me. This is what kept me saying, “I’ve got to stay with this. These guys can do this.'”
Summit shoots 3’s in the mid-30-percent range during practice, but its game percentage is 24. That’s the difference between winning and losing on many nights, and it may be tonight, too, as the No. 10-seeded Tigers, who went winless (0-9) in its first season in the 4A Jeffco League, play No 7 Alameda (7-12, 3-6) in Lakewood in the first round of the playoffs. Tipoff is 4:30 p.m.
“We do pretty well here in practice, but in the games, I don’t know what it is, we’ve just been in this slump all year,” admitted junior Paul Middel.
The Tigers had one of their worst shooting nights of the season last time they traveled to Alameda. They lost 61-33 on Jan. 24 while going 10-for-50 from the field. So perhaps it will only take an improved perimeter game to put the Tigers into the second round of the tournament, where they would face No. 2 Ralston Valley.
“You always feel like it might come around,” Middel said. “We’re talking about Alameda, we’re just gonna be on fire, shooting the lights out. We’ll see.”
Even if they knock down their shots, the Tigers will have to contend with Alameda center Fenton Buchanan, who has been giving the entire league problems this year. He and point guard Shaun Ervin present the biggest challenges to Summit, which will employ a hybrid defense of zone and man-to-man to attempt to stifle the pair.
“They have two players, basically,” Middel said. “If we stop them, we should be able to beat them.”
Part of the plan is to use all three Tiger big-men – senior Alan Widdifield and sophomores Mike Holloway and Garrision Green – offensively in the post. The Tigers hope the Alameda center loses his discipline on defense.
“We’re gonna go at him and see if he can defend without fouling,” Rathgeber said. “We didn’t really challenge him a lot in that (Jan. 24) game.”
Summit plans to use its slow-down offense, which showed some usefulness over the final weeks of the season. The offense puts less pressure on Summit’s scorers by lowering offensive production on both sides. The Tigers will start the game slowly then adjust the strategy throughout.
Win or lose today, Summit accomplished its goal of topping last year’s win total, which it did by one victory. It also established new levels of confidence, teamwork and trust during Rathgeber’s first year. The difference is palpable throughout the program.
Seniors Anderson, Heller, Widdifield, Todd Wegner, Charles Willis and Adam Hafliger won’t be around to further reap the benefits of the program’s apparent turnaround. For them, all that matters is tonight.
“We’ve all worked really hard this year,” Wegner said. “And getting a district win to show for it … would show that we can play and we are better than some people think we are.”
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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