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Boys basketball: Boulder falls to ThunderRidge in final seconds

First game for Panthers in 25 days ends in heartbreak

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Caleb Wehmuller goes for a layup during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Conner Reagan drives to the hoop during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Pete Boyle sinks a three-pointer during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Giles Schmid dribbles past Nolan Marold during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Adam Session takes a shot over Tommy Crawford during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Caleb Wehmuller takes a shot during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Adam Session takes a shot over Tommy Crawford during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

  • Jeremy Papasso/ Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - Boulder High School's Pete Boyle sinks a three-pointer over Tommy Crawford during a game against Thunder Ridge on Tuesday in Boulder.

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Even after a long winter layover, Boulder picked up right where it left off — smack dab in the middle of another tight game decided in the final seconds.

This time, it ended with a grimace.

Jake Vrchota hit a tiebreaking 3 with 6 seconds remaining to lift ThunderRidge past the Panthers 44-41 Tuesday night in Boulder.

Boulder, playing in its first game in 25 days, finished its 2019 slate with a two-point overtime win over Cherry Creek and a two-point win over Mountain Vista on consecutive nights. On Tuesday, though, its offense couldn’t find enough late.

Boulder (4-2) erased a nine-point deficit in the second half on the strength of a swarming defense. After Pete Boyle’s free throw with 16.9 seconds remaining tied things at 41, Vrchota answered with a contested 3. On it, Tyler Turner appeared to close in fast on the senior who came in averaging just 3.3 points per game, but his shot was true.

“It’s tough but you also got to enjoy it,” Boulder coach Riley Grabau said. “You can’t worry about winning and losing, because you just get caught up in that. Are we getting better? Yes. We’re getting better and that’s all that matters.”

Boulder had an inbounds try in the final seconds, but it was tipped. Boyle corralled it going backward near half court and heaved up a desperation 3 that missed the mark at the buzzer.

The Panthers, who made leaps under Grabau in his first season at the helm last year, finished their early slate 4-1 with impressive wins over 2019 postseason teams in Regis Jesuit (second round), Cherry Creek (Great Eight) and Mountain Vista (Final Four). They nearly added another big-time win against ThunderRidge, the Highlands Ranch team that has gone to three straight Final Fours, but they struggled offensively and put up a season-low 41 points.

“Sometimes, myself included, we weren’t looking to make plays for each other,” said Boyle, who hit his first four shots and finished with a team-high 12 points. “That’s something we pride our team on is being so unselfish because we have confidence in each other to make shots.”

ThunderRidge (4-6) came into the night losing six of its first nine — in large part, probably due to a cumbersome early schedule — but returned from winter break with a 27-point win over Cherokee Trail Saturday.

Nolan Marold, the Grizzlies’ shiny 6-foot-6 junior prospect, led the way with 15 points. Using his big frame to body into the paint throughout the night, Marold appeared to be constant mismatch down low. Boulder, though, frustrated him down the stretch with tight defense as it made its comeback.

“Early in the game I think we were playing pretty solid defense but just had a couple miscommunications here and there,” Grabau said. “Or they tried to play bully ball with (Marold). Trying to go up against Pete (Boyle), I told Pete to just stay down and we didn’t send a double. That was our game plan and our players stuck to it.”

It nearly worked to perfection.

The Grizzlies built a 34-25 lead in the third quarter before Boulder closed the deficit to 36-35 with 5:45 remaining.

Garrett Arnold hit a jumper in the middle of the lane to push the lead back to three and Colton Sanders hit another to put ThunderRidge ahead 40-35 at 1:42.

Tyler Turner converted a 3-point play at 1:19 to pull the Panthers within two, snapping a scoring drought of 4:26.

Tommy Crawford hit one of two free throws for the Grizzlies before Caleb Wehmuller cut the deficit back to one with a driving layup with 33 seconds to go. The Grizzlies then threw a full-court pass that was stolen by Adam Sessions and Boyle went to the line and tied the game at 41.

Boulder will begin play in the 5A Front Range League Thursday against Fort Collins — its confidence unshaken.

“I look down our roster and I trust everyone to make a play,” Boyle said. “It’s a special group. We’ve been together for so long and know each other’s game. As long as we keep our turnovers down and we defend like we did tonight, there isn’t a team in the state we can’t beat, in my opinion.”