Bears defeat Bulldogs in thriller at the wire

Late threes by Vermeaule lift Bear boys to victory

Jackson Vermeule and Tyson Smith go for the ball Tuesday night in Dolores. Vermeule made two last minute three-point shots to win the game for the Bears.

Coming off a two-game road trip that included a 76-30 loss to Telluride (Dec. 13) and a 62-23 win over Nucla (Dec. 14), the Dolores Bears were intent on making their return home memorable.

Facing off against the fast-rising Dove Creek Bulldogs, the Bears battled early and relied on the shooting of Jackson Vermeule, posting a 47-42 victory in front of a near-capacity crowd.

A punching bag of the San Juan Basin League in recent years, the Bulldogs arrived in Dolores ready to play, opening a 9-1 lead midway through the first quarter courtesy of buckets by Spencer Gatlin and a three-pointer by Kyle Schultz.

The Bears battled back, cutting the Bulldogs' lead to 11-7 at the end of the first quarter before taking a 16-15 on a driving layup by Jalen Balerrama with 3:40 to go in the second.

Although the Bulldogs battled back to take a 25-19 entering the half, the Bears' ability to keep the game close after falling behind early proved critical.

"I told (my players) to keep chipping away," said Bears' head coach Larry Schwartz. "They had to keep it close or (Dove Creek) was going to blow us out in our own gym. Cutting into the early deficit was huge."

Just how important keeping things close was became apparent during a scrappy third quarter that saw the Bears regain the lead 32-31 midway through the frame on an offensive board and put-back by Ben Lykins.

With the Bears leading 36-35 entering the fourth and the game hanging in the balance, players from both teams put everything on the line.

After Dove Creek pulled ahead 41-37 on a layup by Gatlin, the Bears cut the lead to 42-39 with 1:26 left on a layup by Balderrama.

At that point, the Bears looked to Vermeule.

After narrowly missing a three-point shot off an inbounds play with 1:23 left, Vermeaule got another opportunity, this time capitalizing with a bomb from the top of the circle, which tied the game 42-42 with 49 left.

After a steal by Dolores on Dove Creek's subsequent possession, Bears head coach Larry Schwartz called timeout.

Coming out of the huddle, the Bears appeared focused and after finding Vermeule open in the right corner with 18 seconds left, the clutch-shooter again delivered, sinking another long shot to put Dolores ahead 45-42.

"That was nice," said Vermeule of his shot. "I don't even know what to say about that one. I'm just happy that I could help them win the game."

After failing to score on a three-point attempt by Ernst with six seconds left, the Bulldogs fouled Vermeule, who sank two free throws to give the Bears a 47-42 win.

Clearly pleased by his team's effort, Bears' head Schwartz emphasized that the classic game would not have occurred absent the Bulldogs' improvement .

"Coach Garver has done a great job with those kids," said Schwartz. "That game could have gone either way."

Leading the way for the Bears, Mikeal Ford scored 12 points. Vermeule added nine.

Next up for the 2-3 Bears is a road matchup against the Mancos Bluejays on Dec. 20.