BOULDER — Fortunes have changed for the Boulder Panthers since Front Range League play began in early January.
After a slow start under first-year head coach Riley Grabau, the Panthers boys basketball team had won four of five league games coming into Friday's showdown with the Poudre Impalas. The winning ways continued in a thrilling 61-56 win — a game that featured 11 lead changes and nine ties in front of a packed-house crowd.
"These guys deserve all the props," Grabau said. "They competed and played hard. There were some mistakes, but I'm so proud of my guys. The best thing they are doing is playing together, and that's what this sport is. I couldn't be prouder of our fellows."
The key for the Panthers to beat Poudre was slowing down Jack Fisher and Damian Forrest, both 20-point scorers that form one of the FRL's top duos.
Fisher provided a tough matchup at 6-foot-4 with the ability to drive, shoot from the perimeter and battle down low. To counter, Grabau put a different player on him defensively every couple of minutes, some smaller and some bigger, to try and slow him down. Even with good defense on him, Fisher made a number of tough shots and got to the free throw line to finish with a game-high 28 points.
"We were trying to see who could guard him, but give Fisher credit," Grabau said. "He's a great player. He took and made tough shots all night."
The same could not be said for Forrest, the 6-8 post. A trio of players held him to 1-of-8 shooting in the first half and put him in foul trouble most of the night. He finished with a season-low 10 points.
"We made it our focus to stop (Forrest)," Boulder's Jackson Tanner said. "Miller (Davison), me and (Alex) Rucker were always meeting with coach (Sean Rothermell) about how we could guard him. We knew exactly what we needed to do."
Their work was done early to push Forrest outside of the paint and in the mid-range periodically. There would be enough size and length from the Boulder defenders to hang with him we he backed down on the block and to contest shots from the mid-range.
Another key in containing Forrest came on the offensive end as Tanner and company attacked him on the block and drew fouls. In addition to making free throws, they also put Forrest on the bench with 4:57 remaining in the fourth with five fouls.
"We knew he fouled a lot, and we wanted to be at his throat every step," Tanner said. "We didn't want to back down from anybody. We just wanted to be in the paint and wanted him out of the paint. He mostly hit jump shots and we attacked in the paint."
Poudre would get a lift from Nate Wood to go with Fisher's big night, but enough timely contributions from Boulder's offense paved the way to the win.
Tanner came out strong off the bench and scored in the first and second quarters to give Boulder a slight lead in the first half. Adam Sessions and River Blessing hit big 3-point shots to answer a make from Poudre to put the Panthers back in front. The final contribution came from Giles Schmid with offensive put backs and Tyler Turner hitting critical free throws late to finish the game.
The team also gave an assist to their ruckus crowd for providing plenty of energy in the gym the entire game.
"We don't win this game if we don't have the fans there," Grabau said.
Momentum continues to ride with the Panthers as they remain in the top three of the conference standings. The Panthers will hit road to face Legacy on Tuesday and the Legacy and Monarch Friday. Greeley West and Fairview — the two teams ahead of them in the standings — await as opponents in the final two games of the regular season.
"We have to keep our foot on the gas," Tanner said.
Boulder 61, Poudre 56
At Boulder High School
POUDRE (13-5, 4-3)
Jack Fisher 9 5-7 28, Nate Wood 6 0-0 15, Damian Foster 4 2-2 10, Sergio Tarango 1 0-0 2, Josiah Stribling 0 1-2 1 Totals 20 8-11 56.
BOULDER (7-10, 5-1)
Tyler Turner 4 8-11 16, Jackson Tanner 5 5-6 15, Adam Session 3 0-0 8, Giles Schmid 4 0-1 8, Drake Arthur 2 0-0 4, Alex Rucker 2 0-0 4, River Blessing 1 0-0 3, Miller Davison 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 13-18 61.
Score by quarters:Poudre (13-5, 4-3) 15 9 15 17 — 56
3-point field goals — Poudre(8): Fisher 5, Wood 3; Boulder(3): Sessions 2, Blessing. Total fouls — Poudre 19, Boulder 16. Fouled out — Forrest.