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Wolves blow big lead, hang on to beat Mitchell
The coaching didn’t stop, even after the final buzzer upon Vista Ridge’s hard-fought 58-53 win over Mitchell on Friday on the final day of action at the Spartan Invitational at Doherty.
First-year Vista Ridge coach Joe Hites took a few minutes before addressing his team to mentor senior guard Tyler Jackson, who had just scored eight of his game-high 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Wolves (2-1) held off a charge from the Marauders (0-3).
“If he can focus on what he’s doing right in the moment, he can be a special player," said Hites, a West Coast native in his second tour in Colorado after coaching Cheyenne Mountain from 2002-08. "He feels like he can turn it on and off. In basketball, you have to be on and pay attention to the play you need to make right now.”
His short jumper with 1:43 left in the game broke a 51-51 tie and gave the Wolves the lead for good. He then added two free throws down the stretch as Vista Ridge lost a 15-point lead but managed to hang on.
Jackson agreed with the reason for the post-game discussion.
“My mind wanders a bit,” Jackson said. “Coach talks to me about discipline and working on the mental part of basketball, motivating and encouraging me to be a better player.”
Vista Ridge broke out to a 27-12 lead through the first 13 minutes, 14 of those points coming at the free-throw line as Mitchell was whistled early and often, including two technical fouls that helped the Wolves to 26 free-throw attempts in the first half to just 11 for the Marauders.
Mitchell, behind senior Aaron Cooley and junior Aaron Wright, woke up soon before halftime, trimming the deficit to 29-21 and then trailed by only four entering the fourth quarter.
Cooley’s 3-pointer from the left wing with 6:21 left in the game gave Mitchell a 42-41 lead, and the lead changed hands three times until Jackson’s decisive shot. Wright scored all his team-high 13 points in the second half.
“It seems to take a little while for us to get comfortable,” Mitchell coach Jeff Cooks said. “If we could just start in that gear, we can be a good team.”
The Marauders, down 56-53 with 32 seconds left, had thoughts of a quick drive to the basket and foul to stop the clock, but almost serendipitously, a near-perfect setting for Cooley opened up.
As it developed, the seconds ticked away. With just 5 seconds left, Cooley took advantage of a screen and got a good look at a 25-foot jumper above the top of the key, but the shot was off the mark.
“We were going to go for a quick two, but we ran a plan for him to come off a double screen for a 3-pointer,” Cooks said. “It was set up perfectly, and a screener popped out, and he had a clean shot. Aaron was in rhythm, and we trusted him to take the shot. It just didn’t fall.”