LONGMONT -- The Skyline boys basketball team believes it has evolved past the point where the Falcons will be satisfied with finding the positives within a defeat.

That said, Falcons head coach Michael Peterson remained optimistic about his team's big picture after Skyline suffered its first loss of the young season, as the shorthanded Falcons dropped a 44-35 decision against Sterling Friday in the semifinals of the 2012 Skyline Challenge.

"We didn't shoot the ball well, so they were able to double-down on us," Peterson said. "We didn't have an inside-outside game tonight. And we didn't expect to go 23-0. I can't complain about the effort. Sure, we're disappointed to lose. But if somebody would have told me we'd be 3-1 after four games having two starters out, I'd take that.

Skyline’s Travis Stuvel is thwarted by Sterling’s Ethan Rose during Skyline’s first loss of the season Friday night.
Skyline's Travis Stuvel is thwarted by Sterling's Ethan Rose during Skyline's first loss of the season Friday night. ( Greg Lindstrom )

"I feel good about the effort. We just got out-muscled a little bit and that was the difference in the ball game."

Skyline played its first two games without 3-point specialist Dustin Mandrell and played its second game Friday without point guard Luciano Quesada, who will remain sidelined due to a knee injury until at least the beginning of the team's Tri-Valley League schedule after the holidays.

Against Sterling's stifling defense, Mandrell and leading scorer Colton Dabney were unable to find offensive rhythms.

Mandrell, who poured in 25 points in his season debut Wednesday against Summit, was saddled with foul trouble and scored only 10 points, a total that included a 3-pointer in the waning moments when the outcome already was decided. Dabney, who averaged 17 points during Skyline's 3-0 start, missed his first six shots and finished with just seven points.

Zach Anthony, the Falcons' 6-foot-5 senior forward who entered the game averaging almost 11 points, was limited to six points and scored only two in the second half.

"With Luciano out, we didn't get the penetration we normally have," Dabney said. "They were sagging off our two and three-guards a lot, so me and 'Z' were getting double-teamed a lot in the post. We just didn't get the shots we wanted, but really it all started with our defense. We weren't getting the run-outs that we usually do."

Skyline never led after the opening minutes of the game and fell behind 16-4 early in the second quarter after Sterling put together a 14-0 run. The Falcons stormed back with 11 consecutive points, trimming the Tigers' lead to 21-20 at the break, and remained within one point late in the third quarter. However, Sterling outscored the Falcons 19-11 over the final 10 1/2 minutes of the game.

Skyline will host Estes Park in the tournament's third-place game at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Sterling will face Coronado for the championship.

"We just have to go back to the drawing board and come back strong tomorrow," Peterson said. "I told the boys the most important thing when you get beat down is you come back the next day in life and rise to the occasion. We're just trying to get better every single day. If we get better every single day, the wins and losses will take care of themselves."

Follow Pat on Twitter: @prooney07

Sterling 44, Skyline 35

At Skyline HS

STERLING (2-0)

Rose 1 1-2 3, Sanger 7 2-8 18, Lingreen 1 0-0 2, McNear 1 0-0 2, Skerjanec 2 6-8 11, Manuello 1 0-0 2, Carey 3 0-2 6, Suter 0 0-0 0, D. Lebsock 0 0-0 0, C. Lebsock 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 9-20 44.

SKYLINE (3-1)

Soriano 0 0-0 0, Dabney 3 1-2 7, Mandrell 3 3-4 10, Stuvel 3 2-2 10, Anthony 3 0-1 6, Foresyth 0 0-0 0, Mansanares 1 0-0 2, Lucero 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 6-9 35.

Score by quarters:

Sterling 10 11 8 15 -- 44

Skyline 4 16 6 9 -- 35

3-point field goals -- Sterling (3): Sanger 2, Skerjanec; Skyline (3): Stuvel 2, Mandrell. Total fouls -- Sterling 17, Skyline 18. Fouled out -- Soriano.