LONGMONT — The boys basketball teams from Skyline and Northridge more than likely will not be among the teams battling for the Class 4A Tri-Valley League crown during the stretch run of the season.
Nevertheless, those two teams battled heroically on Friday while putting together what probably will go down as the game of the year in the conference.
Once the dust settled from an epic struggle, Skyline was the last team standing, as the Falcons used a pair of cold-blooded late 3-pointers from junior Dustin Mandrell and a series of clutch defensive plays in the waning moments to outlast visiting Northridge for a 77-75 win in triple overtime.
Skyline (3-5, 1-1 Tri-Valley League) broke a five-game losing streak, and the rebuilding Falcons already have surpassed last season’s win total.
“Sometimes you are afraid to lose instead of playing to win and our kids, without very much varsity experience, sometimes are afraid of making mistakes,” Skyline coach Michael Peterson said. “Sometimes you just have to let it go.”
One player who clearly was not afraid to let it go was Mandrell.
The junior scored only nine points, yet his two 3-pointers during the extra sessions were a big reason why the Falcons were able to enjoy a giddy rush from the Skyline student section on the court once the final buzzer finally sounded.
With Skyline trailing 57-54 late in the first overtime, Mandrell took the ball off a designed inbounds play and drained a long 3-pointer from beyond the top of the key, tying the game at 57-57 with 17.6 seconds remaining and extending the contest into a second overtime.
After Northridge (4-5, 0-1) took a 75-73 lead late in the third overtime, a steal by Colton Dabney set up another 3-pointer by Mandrell with 30 seconds remaining that gave the Falcons the lead for good.
“Coach told me not to hesitate, and if I was open to fire away. That’s what I did,” Mandrell said. “It paid off. There was a lot going through my head, like if I don’t make this I’m letting the team down. But I just have to have confidence in myself, and I did. I just fired away. We’re hoping to just keep on going with this.”
While Mandrell and Marcus Rice, who led the Falcons with 27 points, kept making key shots, it was Skyline’s defense late in the third overtime that finally secured the win.
Mandrell followed his second 3-pointer with a steal that led to a Rice free throw and a two-point cushion for the hosts with 8.5 seconds remaining.
Dabney, who finished with 20 points, then made another timely defensive play, recording an emphatic block of Northridge’s Jason Barraza as he drove for a potential game-tying basket.
Dabney’s block landed out of bounds near mid-court with 1.1 seconds remaining, forcing the Grizzlies to attempt a desperate heave at the buzzer. After it fell awry, Skyline celebrated with its onrushing student section in a scene befitting a playoff game.
“Before we can start winning by a lot, you have to start winning the close games,” Rice said. “This is huge for us. I think that showed a lot of mental toughness on our part. I was so proud of our team. To get a win with a block and a couple big steals, that’s awesome. The adrenaline is still going.”
Skyline 77, Northridge 75
At Skyline HS
NORTHRIDGE (4-5, 0-1)
Arroyo 4 6-8 14, Barraza 7 0-0 14, Bernhardt 5 6-10 17, Vasquez 1 2-2 4, Karlin 3 2-4 8, Rodriguez 0 2-2 2, Trujillo 0 0-0 0, Mendez 0 0-0 0, Martinez 6 4-6 16, Frank 0 0-2 0. Totals 26 22-34 75.
SKYLINE (3-5, 1-1)
Mandrell 3 1-2 9, Dabney 7 6-12 20, Gutierrez 3 0-1 8, Rice 11 5-11 27, Wright 4 1-3 9, Quesada 0 4-5 4, Anthony 0 0-0 0, Buchtel 0 0-0 0. Totals 28 17-34 77.
Score by quarters:
Northridge 6 17 21 10 6 7 10 — 77
Skyline 7 21 19 7 6 7 8 — 75
3-point field goals — Northridge (1): Bernhardt; Skyline (4): Mandrell 2, Gutierrez 2. Total fouls — Northridge 25, Skyline 24. Fouled out — Arroyo, Rodriguez, Quesada. Technical fouls — None.