Junior Noel Richardson (5) soars to the basket. He led the Rams with 22 points, six rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Photo by Sue Rollyson

For most residents of Carbondale, mid-January signals a slow return to the structures of everyday life after a few weeks of holiday cheer. Students, parents, workers: we tend to creak back into our daily rhythms and forgive ourselves for taking things one slow step at a time. Not so for Roaring Fork High School’s basketball program.

With six games in the space of ten days, the Rams have no choice but to start the year at a sprint. Last Friday night, the Rams played host to the Bruins of Cedaredge in front of a noisy crowd packed evenly with fans of both teams. 

Lady Rams stumble
The Lady Rams entered the contest with a 2-4 record, hoping to recover from a loss to Meeker two days prior. The Lady Bruins also came into the game with an overall losing record, but they had the momentum of a two-game winning streak, including victories over Plateau Valley and Aspen. 

The game got off to a scrappy start, with freshman Nikki Tardiff getting into early foul trouble, but the Lady Rams rallied to take an early lead halfway through the first quarter. Once the Lady Bruins settled into the game and began to create open looks for Carley Malinowski and Libby Brooks in the post, they went on a run that saw them up 20-11 at the end of the first quarter. 

The second quarter was a sloppy affair. Both teams employed a three-quarter press on defense, resulting in more errant passes, more turnovers and more fouls. Cedaredge shot well from the foul line, and by halftime enjoyed a 13-point lead. 

In the second half, the Lady Rams looked more aggressive, and sophomores Carley and Erica Crownhart each put their bodies on the line to stop the Lady Bruins’ momentum. Despite their efforts, they could not stop Cedaredge from getting rebounds and easy points in the paint. Foul trouble made a comeback look even less likely for the Lady Rams, especially as the Lady Bruins kept sinking free throws. The final period saw the visitors continue to dominate the younger, less experienced hosts for a final score of 67-36. 

Junior Lelaney Gardasani (3) attempts a shot against the Lady Bruins on Friday night. Photo by Sue Rollyson

Rams overcome feisty Bruins
As the boys teams took the court, the crowd charged itself up for the final game of the evening. The Rams came out of the blocks quickly, charging ahead in the opening minutes with precise perimeter shooting and plenty of hustle on defense. Seniors River Byrne and Eddie Hernandez were a constant menace to the Cedaredge guards, and Hernandez took advantage often with a series of crucial layups in transition.

The Bruins countered with a few gutsy runs of their own, especially when pointguard Luke Maxey was able to connect with center Gideon Gilmore. At the half, the Rams held a six-point advantage, due to their superior shot selection and scrappier defense. 

The Bruins made a few defensive changes to start the second half, switching up man-on-man assignments and employing a more aggressive three-quarter press. The Rams didn’t seem to feel the pressure, though, and junior guard Noel Richardson was the calm presence they needed to weather the storm. “He’s got a pretty cool head when games are on the line,” Coach Jason Krieling said of Richardson, who led the Rams in scoring with 22 points. 

Despite a nine-point deficit going into the fourth quarter, the Bruins refused to give up. Luke Maxey led Cedaredge on a remarkable run that gave his team a slender lead with five minutes remaining. With tensions running high, Noel Richardson hit a pair of clutch field goals, senior Diego Loya scored in transition and senior Ryan Metheny riled up the student section with a big bucket in the paint. 

From there, Cedaredge had no choice but to foul the Rams on nearly every possession. River Byrne and Noel Richardson were happy to step up to the line and sink their free throws, and the Rams ended the night on top by a score of 57-51. 

“We try to put them into situations where free throws count, even in practice,” said Coach Krieling. All of that preparation clearly paid off for this group of experienced players, and the Rams deservedly celebrated the win over their conference rivals. 

Contrasting fortunes
The Rams followed up Friday’s victory with a narrow 48-46 road win at North Fork on Saturday, an effort led by Hernandez with 17 points and Byrne with 12. On Tuesday, they dispatched the Grand Valley Cardinals at home by a score of 62-41 in a game that provided Coach Krieling a chance to rest his starters and give valuable minutes to his second string. After dominating the first half, the Rams allowed the Cardinals to make a game of it early in the second half. Whatever Krieling said to his team during the brief pause before the fourth quarter worked, and the Rams reasserted themselves to finish the game as clear and comfortable winners. 

Their 4-0 start to conference play is the best start to a season for the Rams since 2013. “Our main goal is to have a winning season,” said Coach Krieling, “but winning the League would be a huge accomplishment.” Setting aside the big picture, the Rams are focused on one game at a time. “We need to be prepared,” stressed Krieling, “and tweak things from previous games and continue being consistent.”

For the Lady Rams, two subsequent losses to North Fork and Grand Valley give the squad an 0-4 start to League play. Coach Juan Quintero and his young team will look to hone their defensive self-discipline and stop their opponents in the paint in games to come, but in the long run, they will hope the experience gained this season will pay dividends in years to come. 

Up next, Roaring Fork will host Olathe on Friday evening and Gunnison on Saturday afternoon. The Lady Rams will tip off against Olathe at 5:30 p.m. Friday, and on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against Gunnison. The Rams will then put their winning streak to the test at 7:00 p.m. Friday and 2:00 p.m. on Saturday.