Just four weeks remain in the regular season and the final handful of games for each team should start clarifying the district tournament picture. However, four games have already been played this week that actually made things cloudier in both the Mile High and 5280 leagues.
On Tuesday night, Denver Jewish Day (6-4, 27th RPI) and Front Range Baptist (8-3, 11th RPI) each picked up wins in the 5280, with the Tigers downing Rocky Mountain Lutheran (6-6, 19th RPI) and the Falcons knocking off Shining Mountain (9-4, 9th RPI). Denver Jewish Day is atop the league with a 2-0 mark, but the Tigers currently sit behind five other league teams in the RPI. They still have games with the next four teams in the league standings left on the schedule.
Cornerstone Christian (6-4, 18th RPI) entered the week with a share of the league lead, but the Bulldogs were nipped by Denver Waldorf (6-5, 25th RPI) 58-56 on Tuesday. The Spartans now sit third in the league, followed by Front Range Baptist and Shining Mountain. The latter two are tied at 2-2, but Front Range Baptist now holds the tiebreaker over the Lions.
Shining Mountain finds itself in a big non-league tilt on Saturday when the Lions host Elbert (6-7, 40th RPI). While Elbert’s record and RPI may not make the Bulldogs look like a serious threat, they defeated Denver Jewish Day, 55-52, on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs have won four of their last five, and only two of their losses all season have come against 1A opponents. Three of the remaining defeats were at the hands of top-11 RPI programs in 2A. Braxton Morgan is a tough handle for the opposition, averaging just short of 15 points a game. The junior has been even better in January, scoring right at 20 a night.
Shining Mountain enters the contest having dropped two of its last three outings, both in league play. The Lions fell to Cornerstone Christian (56-24) last week and then suffered the 76-57 loss to Front Range Baptist on Tuesday. They had a 38-31 victory over Rocky Mountain Lutheran sandwiched between. Nathan Fairmont is a big presence for the Lions on both ends of the floor. The senior averages 20 points, close to 16 rebounds and four blocks a night, while also leading the team with 3.5 assists a game.
In the Mile High, everyone is chasing 2A Highland, who is unbeaten inside the league. Fifth-ranked Heritage Christian (9-2, 3rd RPI) is the closest challenger, one game behind the Huskies. Those two will meet in two weeks and the league title could be on the line. The Eagles created a logjam behind them by beating 2A Dayspring Christian in overtime on Tuesday, 66-54. There are now four teams with two league losses, including #7 Longmont Christian (10-3, 8th RPI), who beat 2A Denver Christian 52-51 on Tuesday.
Heritage Christian and Longmont Christian are battling top-ranked Peetz (11-0, 4th RPI) for the top seed in the District 4 tournament in February. The Eagles and Warriors will meet on Feb. 5th, with the winner getting a sizeable boost in the RPI. Neither team plays Peetz in the regular season.
Two of the key games this week take place in the Southern Peaks, featuring the top four teams in the standings. Eighth-ranked Primero (8-2, 15th RPI) gets things started by hosting Sierra Grande (8-3, 17th RPI) on Thursday, followed up by #3 Creede (12-0, 2nd RPI) visiting #6 Sangre de Cristo (12-1, 5th RPI) on Saturday.
Primero has won two straight since suffering a five-point loss to Creede two weeks ago. The Bulldogs led Centennial (1-7, 22nd RPI) by 23 heading into the fourth quarter last Thursday before holding on for a 52-46 victory. The following night, the Bulldogs outscored Springfield (3-7, 44th RPI) 34-14 in the second half to earn the 54-28 victory. Vince Damelio combined for 39 points in the two wins, while freshman Antonio Cordova tallied 31.
Sierra Grande is currently tied with Creede and Sangre for the top spot in the Southern Peaks, with Primero one game back. The Panthers ride a five-game winning streak into the match-up on Thursday, with all of the wins coming by at least 17 points. Arthur Rodriguez, who averages 29.5 points a game, has three of his five 30-point plus performances during that winning streak.
The recent history of the series between the two squads is very close, with Sierra Grande owning an 11-8 edge. The Panthers had won five straight before Primero claimed a 60-49 victory last year. Damelio scored a game-high 34 points in that win.
Creede heads into Saturday’s game at Sangre de Cristo having been pushed in two of its last three contests. After beating Primero by five in their clash two weeks ago, the Miners outlasted Cotopaxi (6-3, 14th RPI) 70-61 last Friday. The following night, Creede jumped out to a 30-9 lead over Manzanola (5-4, 24th RPI), led by 20 heading into the fourth quarter, and beat the Bobcats 67-56. Isaac Borchers paces the squad with 18 points a night, followed by Casper Freedle (13.3) and Colter Simon (8.3). The trio combines for over 24 rebounds a game, led by Simon’s 9.5.
Friday’s game will be a shot at revenge for Sangre de Cristo, who’s only loss of the season came to Creede in the semifinals of the T-Bird Shootout on Dec. 1, 72-58. Creede’s big three combined for 50 points in that contest, with Simon scoring a game-high 21. The Thunderbirds got 18 from Cole Christensen, a dozen from Jared Sinclair, and 11 apiece out of Jake Slane and Manuel Lopez. The big difference in the game was a 47-20 edge on the glass by the Miners.
That victory by Creede was their first over Sangre de Cristo in the last seven meetings. The Thunderbirds took two match-ups last year, including a 47-21 decision in the district tournament.
Fourth-ranked Cheyenne Wells (8-1, 7th RPI) puts a five-game winning streak on the line Thursday when it travels to Genoa-Hugo (5-6, 26th RPI). The Tigers have not lost since Dec. 14, when they were upended by #9 South Baca (9-3, 6th RPI), 51-41. Three of the wins in their current streak were against teams ranked 44th or worse in the RPI. Their schedule is very back loaded, as the remaining slate has games against Holly and Kit Carson, as well as a number of other quality opponents.
The Pirates scored a season-high 81 points in a shootout victory (81-76) over Stratton/Liberty (3-8, 38th RPI) last Saturday. That win snapped a four-game skid for Genoa-Hugo. The last three in that streak were by a total of 11 points. Caid Smith led all scorers in that victory with 30 points, one off his career high set last year against Cheraw in the regional tournament. The senior is averaging 17 points a game.
Finally, Saturday sees #2 Holly (12-0, 1st RPI) hosting Kim/Branson (5-7, 31st RPI) in Arkansas Valley action. The Wildcats visit Springfield on Friday, for their first game since surviving a test at #10 Kit Carson (9-2, 10th RPI) last Saturday. Holly held a 37-35 lead heading into the fourth quarter, before shutting out the hosts in the last frame to earn the 44-35 victory.
The Mustangs are tied with Holly atop the league standings, but they still must face South Baca next Saturday. The Patriots are on game back of the top two in the Ark Valley, with their lone league loss coming against Holly. Kim/Branson had won three straight before dropping a pair of games last week to Cheraw (6-6, 13th RPI) and Sangre de Cristo. This is the second multi-game losing streak of the season for the Mustangs, who lost four in-a-row prior to their earlier winning streak.
This match-up will feature a pair of high scoring seniors. Zion Mason leads Kim/Branson at just short of 20 points a game, while Jesse Gomez paces the Wildcats at better than 14 a contest. Holly has won six straight over the Mustangs and nine of the last 10.