Despite bitterly cold temperatures and howling winds, a large crowd poured into the South Park High School gymnasium Dec. 19 to witness the annual renewal of an old Park County basketball rivalry between the hometown Burros and the visiting Platte Canyon Huskies.
In a game that featured dramatic momentum changes throughout, and was played with all the effort and emotion typical of a longstanding rivalry, it was the Burros who eventually got last laugh over their Park County cousins with a thrilling 50-43 victory.
The Burros, now 2-3 on the season, welcomed the Huskies (1-4) rudely with an onslaught of scoring and a tenacious defensive effort in the game’s opening volleys.
Two baskets apiece by Leonardo Banuelos and Elias Esparza, and another steal and layup by senior Michael Kelley, put the Huskies in a 10-0 hole and prompted frenzied excitement on the South Park side of the gymnasium.
Not until five minutes had elapsed in the opening quarter did the Huskies finally find the hoop when sophomore Allen Hardey grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it back in.
Another basket by Kelley, followed by a buzzer-beating shot from Alden Higgins put an exclamation point on a dominant first quarter by the Burros. Kelley, Banuelos and Esparza were key cogs for the Burros from start to finish, scoring 16, 12 and nine points, respectively.
With their team up 14-2, the Burros’s band blasted out inspirational tunes and South Park crowd was all smiles while awaiting the start of the second quarter.
The Huskies settled in somewhat in the second quarter, as the defense ratcheted up and a few baskets finally started to fall. Timely offense from freshman Grant Culpepper, as well as seniors Ryder Bayman and Ridge Eisele, pulled the Huskies back into contention at 19-13.
Just before the quarter ended, however, a silky-smooth three-pointer by South Park’s Hector Almeida left no doubt that the home team owned the first half in every regard and gave the Burros a 20-12 advantage.
Providing a hint of things to come, however, Platte Canyon’s Bayman weaved his way through defenders and launched to the rim for a layup to give the Huskies a spark just seconds into the third quarter.
Bayman repeated that process twice more over the next couple of minutes, visibly building confidence with each drive through the paint. The third layup was especially impressive, as Bayman showed remarkable quickness and explosion by dribbling through heavy traffic, leaping above Burro defenders and dropping in a reverse layup with a feather’s touch.
Bayman’s third bucket of the quarter, along with another offensive rebound and basket by Hardey, pulled the Huskies to within a bucket at 24-22. Two successful free throws by Platte Canyon sophomore Kyler Edwards brought a distinct hush over the hometown crowd and tied the game at 24-all with five minutes still remaining in the quarter.
Bayman added two more layups before the quarter ended, but Kelley and Banuelos provided senior leadership and timely hoops to at least counterbalance the Huskies’ newfound enthusiasm and intensity.
The lead changed hands numerous times before the quarter ended, finishing with yet another steal and layup by Bayman that gave the visitors a 33-30 lead headed into the final frame.
Sparked by five buckets from Bayman and four points from Hardey, the Huskies outscored the Burros 20-8 in the third quarter.
Predictably, the Burros found yet another gear early in the fourth quarter, with terrific ball movement and renewed energy on defense. With the Huskies up 38-32, and the momentum squarely in Platte Canyon’s corner, the Burros began their game-defining run with a pair of free throws from Banuelos, a jumper by Esparza and two more free throws by Aron Susic.
Another slick move and long jump shot by Esparza, followed by a layup from Kelley, completed a remarkable 13-2 run by the Burros and gave them a 45-40 lead they would never relinquish.
To their credit, the Huskies pulled back to within four points at 47-43 before a final jump shot from Kelley iced the contest for good. Kelley was outstanding on both ends of the floor for the Burros, but his poise under pressure and sharp shooting down the stretch may well have ultimately been the difference in the contest.
In addition to his team high 16 points, Kelley snared 10 rebounds and four steals to round out an impressive statistical showing. Teammate Banuelos also finished with four steals and 10 boards. Interestingly, nine of those rebounds came on the defensive end of the floor.
Bayman finished with a team-high 16 points for the Huskies, followed by teammates Ewards (10), Hardey (six), and Culpepper and Eisele with five apiece. Hardey also finished with seven rebounds to go along with a pair of steals coming in off the bench.