Tigers respond to must-win situation
FARMER’S KORNER – The Summit High School boys basketball team entered Thursday’s regular-season finale against Conifer in a position it has grown accustomed to this season — with its back against the wall.According to Summit coach Mike Rathgeber, Summit’s postseason hopes hinged on the result of its matchup with Conifer.And with the Tigers’ season in the balance, who more appropriate to step up for them than two weathered seniors unwilling to see their basketball careers come to an end?Bob Schwander and Alex Shackleton both scored a career-highs 17 points as the Tigers held off the Lobos 59-54 in front of a large and spirited home crowd.
“Usually we play our best games when our backs are against the wall and we know we have to win,” Schwander said. “We started off the season 0-3 and we needed to win then. If we hadn’t gotten that win, we might not be in such a good position to make the postseason right now.”With the victory, the Tigers (9-14, 3-6 in the 4A Jeffco League) all but ensured a spot in the 4A playoffs, no small feat for a rebuilding program that lost all five starters from last year’s state tournament team.”Nothing’s definite until 5:01 on Sunday night,” Rathgeber said. “But it will be a news flash if it doesn’t happen. We came in to tonight with a power ranking of 44. Forty-eight teams go and we just beat a 41.”Schwander, who has started about half of the Tigers’ game this season, said he felt a sense of urgency for his team, especially as one of its veterans.”I got real pumped,” he said. “It was the last game at home senior year. I figured I better bring it tonight or else there would be no other time to bring it.”
Shackleton, personified the Tigers’ refuse-to-lose mentality, grabbing seven rebounds to go along with his career night on offense. He also displayed offensive patience and a soft touch near the hoop. “I was working with our post-player coach a lot yesterday,” the 6-foot-3 center said. “I’ve just been trying to keep going through that stuff in my head.”Thursday’s game was a tale of two halves, with the Tigers looking sluggish at the outset and strong down the stretch. Summit was able to overcame an 11-point halftime deficit, due in large part to a key defensive adjustment made by Rathgeber at halftime.Conifer’s Alex Womeldorph dominated the Tigers in the first half and scored 23 points, which equaled Summit’s entire first-half output. In the second half, the Tigers went from their traditional zone defense to a box-and-one in hopes of neutralizing Womeldorph. The plan worked, as the Lobos’ senior standout scored just three second-half points.Jordan McCarthy, who chipped in six points for the Tigers, took on much of the defensive responsibilities against Conifer’s sharpshooter.
“We probably should have gone box-and-one right from the get-go,” Rathgeber said. “The problem was that Womeldorph has been seeing box-and-one all year long and I thought showing it to him right away would be a mistake. If I had to do it over again, I would have done it differently.”As the tide turned down the stretch, the Lobos (9-14, 3-6 in 4A Jeffco play) began to foul more then they had all game. The result was Summit shooting 15-for-19 from the free-throw line during the game’s decisive final quarter. The Lobos, by contrast, attempted only two fourth-quarter free throws. In the end, the Conifer nailed its own coffin shut when its coach, Tory Mansfield, was ejected from the game following two straight technical fouls. The Tigers were consequently awarded four free throws as well as possession of the ball, after which they put the game out of reach.Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13631, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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