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Rebels outlast Eagles

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By Joe Vaccarelli

Columbine boys basketball coach Jeff Wennberg wasn’t happy with his teams’ performance on Jan. 16 at Dakota Ridge High School.

A surprising fact considering it was on a night when the Rebels got only their second win of the year and first road win of the season as they defeated Dakota Ridge 48-46.

“I’m happy with the result, but I’m not really happy with the way my guys played. I thought we took a big step back…and I think a lot of that, probably all of that had to do with Dakota Ridge,” Wennberg said.

Nevertheless, the Rebels (2-11) were able to win in a hostile environment in a Class 5A Jefferson County League game and snap a three-game losing streak in the process.

The Rebels’ game plan early on seemed to be to get the ball inside to their big center, 6-foot-8 senior Connor Osborne, but the Eagles were able to thwart most of those attempts with stifling defense by Cory Loupee and John Sherman. However, the Eagles had trouble capitalizing on offense and the two teams were pretty much even for most of the first half.

At the end of the half, Columbine was able to pull away slightly on the strength of a buzzer-beater that gave the Rebels a 23-17 lead.

In the third quarter, the Eagles were able to battle back with the help of a 5-0 run halfway through the third quarter to cut the lead to one at 25-24. They followed that up with another 5-0 run, this time at the end of the quarter with all five points scored by sophomore Danny DiFolco, who finished with a game-high 16 points.

Columbine regained the lead at the end of the third quarter, thanks to a last-second foul on a wild 3-point attempt by Garrett Hurlburt. Hurlburt converted all three free throws for a 32-31 Rebel lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The teams traded baskets through most of the quarter. The Eagles were able to regain the lead 39-38 after a steal by Lenny Canny that led to a layup by Cameron Pritchett. Mike Tanner then hit a 3-pointer for Columbine to make it 41-39, but DiFolco answered with a three of his own. On the next Eagle possession, Derek VanderVelde put back a miss for a three-point Eagle lead with just over two minutes remaining.

That lead was short-lived as Columbine’s Beau Smith scored and was fouled, completing a three-point play that tied the game once again. Matt Huntington then made one of two free throws on Columbine’s next possession for a 45-44 lead. The Eagles then turned the ball over with 30 seconds remaining when a pass slipped through the fingers of Canny.

After Beau Smith made one of two free throws, Huntington was able to get an offensive rebound and more free throws for Smith that sealed the game. The Eagles got a good look for a DiFolco 3-point attempt to tie with 4.5 seconds remaining, but his shot was short and John Sherman put back a layup instead of kicking it out for another try and the Rebels hung on for the win.

Smith was huge for Columbine down the stretch as he scored most of his team-high 14 points in the fourth quarter.

“It feels great getting a win, we needed one,” he said. “I doesn’t matter if it’s ugly or not.”

For the Eagles, it was a disappointing loss that made head coach Curi Yutzy look at the little things that ended up making a big difference.