Short-handed Falcon fends off Fort Morgan

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FALCON – With the shots suddenly not falling and the lead dwindling to scraps, there was no help coming for the Falcon boys’ basketball team Saturday night.

The Falcons relish in these moments.

With only starters and one JV-varsity swing player on the bench, the short-handed No. 4 Falcons fended off No. 29 Fort Morgan for a 61-49 win in the second round of the 4A state playoffs.

Falcon - which has been gutted throughout the year due to varying circumstances - played five players the entire way Saturday, until Zach O’Brien entered the game with 18 seconds remaining.

Despite the lack of help, Falcon’s strange and successful season continues. It’ll host 13-seed D’Evelyn in the round of 16 Wednesday.

“They just continue to play,” Falcon coach Mark Watley said. “They know not to commit easy fouls, they know what to let go and what not to let go, they know what to do. We’re not going to complain or make excuses.

“Five is all it takes to play, right? Five timeouts and five players, we’ll make it work.”

Reserve guard Caine Hall is expected to be back from injury against the Jaguars. While Hall is averaging just 4.1 points per game this season, Falcon players are certainly excited to add a guy to the rotation.

“Just to sit down and maybe get a little bit of water,” senior guard Reece Warren grinned. “Yeah, that’d be real nice.”

Sporting its highest seed in program history, Falcon (19-5) came out hitting on all cylinders to the delight of its packed-in home crowd, and then held on.

Warren had 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 21, while Brendan LaRose added 10 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks. Noah Martinez had 19 points.

Trey McBride scored 21 and Grayson Garver added 16 to lead the Mustangs (13-12), who clawed back into the game but trailed throughout.

In the second, the Falcons pushed out to a 25-12 advantage but scored just three points in the final 6:34 of the half. A strange hush washed over Falcon’s gymnasium as the momentum was seemingly gone, and the home team's lead was just 28-24.

As for the Falcon Five? Adversity was nothing new.

“We feel that nobody thought we would get to this point,” LaRose said. “It’s all just us trying to prove people wrong.”

The Falcons flew around the court in the third as Mitchel Ballage muscled in for a layup to make it 44-34 in the closing seconds of the quarter. Fort Morgan got no closer than six in the fourth.

Watley and his players stuck around the court to celebrate with fans before heading to the locker room. Asked how far a team can realistically go in the playoffs with only starters and little help, Watley smiled.

“I’m very confident,” Watley said. “Here’s the reason why - when you start subbing off the bench, they’re the sixth, seventh, eighth man, ninth man for a reason. They don’t normally play. You’re going to send those out against my starting five? Good luck. Good luck with that.”