On senior night, the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team beat Westminster College (Utah) 75-67 to clinch the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s regular season championship for the second time in the last three years and the sixth time in program history.
This win not only clinched the RMAC title for the Skyhawks, but it also gives them the one seed in the RMAC tournament, meaning that the tournament will be hosted by FLC in Durango.
“This is what it’s all about,” Bob Pietrack, FLC head coach, said. “I’m just so thankful and blessed, both the coaching staff and I are, to coach such a great group of guys. We went wire-to-wire in first place this year, didn’t spend a night in second place and the journey wasn’t easy.”
Coming into the game, Westminster and FLC were tied atop the RMAC standings, each having a conference record of 17-4.
“That’s not little boys out there, man,” Pietrack said. “That’s grown man ball.”
This game was the last regular season home game for five Skyhawk seniors. Guard Kane Martinez, guard Daniel Hernandez, guard DJ Miles, center Brandon Wilson, and second all-time leading scorer in program history, forward Rasmus Bach.
“I think I did a pretty good job,” Bach said. “I actually thought I was going to cry walking out there with my mom, and I didn’t, so that was a little surprising. I had the same butterflies I have but in the game, there was just no way we were losing this”... “I was in my head, ‘we’re not losing on my senior night at home.’”
Unlike the women’s game which was a game of runs, this game was tightly contested throughout. FLC led the entire game but never had more than a ten point advantage over the Griffins.
FLC jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead in the first half and got a major break when WC’s leading scorer Dayon Goodman got two early fouls in within the first three minutes of the contest. However, Westminster guard Quincy Bair made up for the loss of Goodman and picked up the scoring load.
Goodman, who averages 28 PPG, was held to 16 points on 7-11 shooting. He was primarily defended by junior transfer Marquel Beasley.
“It’s pretty much just being locked in on him,” Beasley said. “Trying to do whatever I can to help my teammates out and keep pressuring him anywhere I can. Whether it’s on the offensive end or the defensive end, just help any way I can.”
Bair was huge for the Griffins all game and ended up scoring an incredible 33 points on 10-13 shooting, 5-5 from behind the arc, and 8-8 from the charity stripe.
Despite Bairs great play, the Griffins trailed the Skyhawks at halftime 34-29.
In the second half, the game remained tight. FLC pressed the lead to 10, 54-44, but then the Griffins fought back to make it a one point game, 57-56 with over nine minutes left in the game.
Nothing was going to stop FLC in this one though, Bach said. Even when the score was close like this, the team’s confidence never wavered, he said.
The team pulled away and put away the Griffins, 75-67.
The team stormed the court and celebrated the win with the massive crowd that showed up to support their RMAC champions.
Pietrack, elated, looked to Associate head coach Daniel Steffensen and wrapped him in a giant hug. Athletic Director Barney Hinkle was seen with his arms raised over his head yelling out “Yes!”
Everybody was elated and relieved to have finished off this gauntlet that is the RMAC conference season, Pietrack said.
“This is a marathon of an RMAC season and to get the title back, the title we didn’t get last year, to get it back took four months at that is really, really gratifying,” Pietrack said.
The Skyhawks won the conference two years ago and they had the lead in during the entire season last year before losing to Westminster on the last game of the year and dropping to second place with that loss. That was not going to happen again, Pietrack said.
“Every season is different, but this season is awfully gratifying for Coach Stef and I,” Pietrack said. “The first time you win something, everything is new and it’s special, but to get that close in ‘17 and get turned away at the last night and to half to come back this year after we lost the seniors that we lost, which are pretty darn good seniors”... “ It’s as satisfying a win as I’ve ever been apart of. “
After the win, the team cut down the net and celebrated their contentious victory.
FLC finished the season 22-5 (18-4) while WC finished one game back at 21-5 (17-5). FLC was also undefeated at home again this season for the second time in three years.
“For me I think it’s embarrassing to lose at home,” Bach said. “We have probably the best crowd in the RMAC so we don’t want to let down our fans and don’t want to be embarrassed.”
The team will now play at home on Tuesday against Western State University at 7 p.m.
The team has played Western twice already this season. FLC won both matchups. In the first, they went to overtime, and in the second, FLC won by seven.
“They are a very difficult matchup,” Pietrack said. “They have seniors that care, they shoot the crap out of the ball, we are going to have to guard for 40 minutes. They have scored 90 twice on the road. They had to sweep a road trip and they did, they won at Highlands and then won at Pueblo. They are our geographical rival, so that will help our crowd Tuesday and we will definitely be ready to play Tuesday.”