OAK CREEK — The battle for the Class 1A/2A Western Slope title is not an easy one, and the Soroco High School Rams (9-2, 2-1) learned that in their loss against the De Beque Dragons (8-1, 2-0) on Friday night.
Although the Rams came into the match at No. 7 in the Class 2A RPI standings, the Dragons were No. 6 in Class 1A, and refused to be underestimated, closing out a definite victory, 56-45.
“De Beque is a top-5 team in 1a, they’ll be at the state tournament,” Rams head coach David Bruner said. “I knew they had a chance to win the league this year, they have seven seniors, they’ve been waiting for this for a long time. We’ve been beating up on them for 10 years.”
The Rams maintained a lead for the entire first half, but their offense began to fall apart in the second.
Soroco senior Chloe Veilleux stole the ball on three of the Dragons’ possessions before the half, converting on one of them for a 3-pointer.
The Rams held a halftime lead 29-21, but the Dragons made moves in the third quarter, scoring 22 points to the Rams’ 13 to grab a lead.
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The Dragons made three baskets and the Rams still held the lead 33-27. Dragons junior Madison Scott drew a foul call to make a free throw, and the Dragons’ bench screamed when senior Faith Novess did the same after making a basket to pull within one the first time, 35-34
But Rams senior Chloe Veilleux would do the same when she charged down court. Veilleux flew through the air on a jump shot, making a 3-pointer as she was knocked to the floor, adding a free throw to stay ahead, 38-34.
The Rams struggled to make field goals in the remaining minutes. Rams senior Grace Olinger added one and the remaining two points were free throws. But the Dragons kept riding the wave behind Novess to put them over the edge for a 43-42 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“They played better than us today,” Bruner said. “They did some things, turning the ball over. We didn’t rebound very well. I can guarantee you, that team will win the 1A state track meet, too. Their rebounding mostly killed us inside.”
Intercepted passes and failed shots started to put the Rams in a deeper hole. The tone was set on the opening play, when Veilleux lobbed a pass to sophomore Makinley Parker down court. Parker attempted to pass to Olinger under the basket, but the Dragons snatched the ball in its pass to run down for a score.
Making the shots began to be the last problem for the Rams, whose chances to even throw the ball up narrowed. There were at least three more passes intercepted for scores, giving the Dragons a 54-43 lead.
The Rams ran out of time, and couldn’t come up with enough points from the free-throw line to close the gap. Veilleux finished the game with 20 points on the night while Olinger had 12.
“Sometimes it’s good to lose early in January and refocus,” Bruner said.
The Rams will travel next Friday to take on their rival, the Tigers, at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, at Hayden High School.