Jan. 8—CHEYENNE — Entering Saturday's match up with Cheyenne East, Douglas was ranked No. 1 in Class 3A.
The Thunderbirds found out why Douglas is ranked so high the hard way, dropping their final game of the James Johnson Winter Classic, 51-50.
"They were just better than we were," East coach Rusty Horsley said. "We were out-coached and outplayed. We just have to take it on the chin."
The teams played great defense to open the game and finished the first quarter locked in a 13-13 tie. East had the better of the looks, but was unable to bury their chances — a reoccurring theme throughout the game.
Senior Garet Schlabs led the team in the first quarter, posting 11 first-quarter points. Junior Drew Jackson had the other two points that came from free throws.
East came out of halftime and played its worst quarter of the game, scoring just eight points throughout. However, its defense stepped up and allowed just 10 to cut Douglas' lead to just two heading into the break.
East's scoring woes continued into the second half. The third quarter, it allowed Douglas to build on its lead before cutting it down to four heading into the fourth.
Entering the final quarter, things started to look dire for the T-Birds. Douglas came out on fire. East fell behind by nine points around the midway point of the final quarter but managed to battle. Kysar Jolley, who was playing with four fouls during the fourth quarter, and Nathan Mirich played crucial roles in getting the team back into the game.
With 90 seconds left Mirich drained a corner 3-pointer to get the T-Birds within one. After two free throws from Douglas, Mirich drove the baseline and scored a running layup with just under 20 seconds left in the game to cut it back to one.
On its next possession, Douglas was hounded by the T-Birds' defense and turned the ball over with 18.9 seconds left in the game. Despite all their shooting woes, East had a chance to ice the game in regulation.
But it was not meant to be. With time winding down, Colter McAnelly couldn't get his shot to fall. The teams wrestled for the ball, but time ran out before either could come away with it.
"They just play together and play as one," Schlabs said. "They are really tough on offense and great on defense."
Schlabs finished the game with a team-high 17 points to lead the T-Birds offensively. While his scoring tapered off in the final three quarters, he still helped set up other players for good looks at the basket. McAnelly was the only other player to finish in double-figures for East, scoring 10 points on the night.
Unfortunately for East, those shots just did not fall tonight. Part of that has to do with the defensive job Douglas did on them. While East had a good amount of open looks at the net, Douglas did a great job contesting the T-Birds down low and out on the perimeter. Douglas also held East to its lowest point total on the season.
"They are good basketball players," Horsley said. "They can pass it. They can shoot it. They are really tough (to play against)."
Jackson, the team's leading scorer, struggled mightily throughout the game. The junior recorded just seven points, and made just one shot from the field.
Despite the loss, East knows its season is not over after losing one game. The team knows that a lot of their struggles had to do with shots not falling in the game and feels like their other issues tonight can easily be corrected.
"(This loss) is a little motivator for us," Schlabs said. "Sometimes you just go through games like that. We just have to bounce back."
DOUGLAS 51, EAST 50
Douglas...... 13 10 13 16 — 51
Cheyenne East...... 13 8 11 18 — 50
Douglas: Rinn 26, Pearson 0, Hughes 6, Pyle 0, Halquist 10, Roberts 0, Curtis 9, Zwetzig 0.
Cheyenne East: C. McAnelly 10, G. Schlabs 17, Na. Mirich 8, Jackson 7, Jolley 8.
Matt Atencio covers Laramie County prep sports for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MattAtencio5.