Heading into the regional round, the playoff field currently stands at 22. By the end of the evening on Saturday, that number will be pared down to just eight state qualifiers. The Northeast and Southeast regions were seeded by RPI, with a few adjustments to avoid district rematches in the semifinals.
NORTHEAST REGIONAL — BRUSH HIGH SCHOOL
#6 ARICKAREE/WOODLIN (16-6) VS #7 ELBERT (10-12) 12:30PM FRIDAY
Arickaree/Woodlin entered the postseason on a down note, having dropped two of its last three, including a 71-27 defeat at Pawnee in the finale. After cruising to an opening round 75-25 victory over Bethune in the District 5 tournament, the Indian-Mustangs fended off Stratton/Liberty 76-71 in the semifinals. They had to overcome a 14-point second quarter deficit in that game with the Knighted Eagles. Â Saturday night, they again found themselves in a deep first half hole, trailing Otis 39-23 at the break. Arickaree/Woodlin would find another gear in the second half, claiming the district title with a 65-61 victory.
The Indian-Mustangs were buoyed by the return of Kevin Ramirez, who missed close to three weeks after suffering a concussion in a win over Rocky Mountain Lutheran. The junior, who was averaging close to 15 points a game prior to the injury, gave the squad 13 a contest during the tournament. However, the duo of Arturo Ramos and Andy Miller powered them in the semifinals and finals, combining for 30 points against Stratton/Liberty and 33 against the Bulldogs.
Elbert’s season was a mixed bag, with the Bulldogs struggling against top competition. Seven of their losses came to teams that are still alive in the postseason, with four of those opponents in the top 15 seeds of the 2A bracket. Â The Bulldogs went undefeated in the 1A portion of the Black Forest, earning a league title. They made it to the District 7 championship game, where they were handed a 55-29 loss by Genoa-Hugo.
Braxton Morgan was the lone player to average double figures during the regular season, pumping in 14.6 points a game. The junior topped the 20-point mark six times prior to the district tournament, a feat no other Bulldog accomplished once this season.
The winner of the contest will face the top seed in the region, Heritage Christian (18-4) in the finals. The Eagles upset previously unbeaten Peetz in the title game of District 4. Heritage Christian only lost one game against a 1A foe, an early season defeat by Rocky Mountain Lutheran, and two of the other three losses were to 2A regional qualifiers. Also on the record were three wins over Longmont Christian, the #3 seed in the region, as well as three victories over 2A regional teams.
Josiah Bowsher, who scored a game-high 28 in the win over Peetz, including the game-winning free throws, leads the Eagles at nearly 15 points a game. Josh Samuelson (11.6), Levi Killian (11.0) and Isaiah Bowsher (9.9) give the squad good scoring depth.
#5 OTIS (13-8) VS #8 DEER TRAIL (5-15) 6:30PM FRIDAY
Otis claimed the YWKC regular season crown after beating Arickaree/Woodlin 49-44 on Feb. 2nd. That gave the Bulldogs a first round bye in the District 5 tournament, making the semifinals with Flagler/Hi-Plains their first postseason contest. The Bulldogs got 29 points from Cullen Glosson in the 78-50 victory over the Thunder, propelling them into the championship game. Glosson would again lead all scorers with 27 points, while Ty Hunt added 16, but Otis could not hold on for the win.
During the season, the Bulldogs went 0-3 against 2A regional qualifiers and added a 3-3 mark against 1A teams still in the field. Included in the latter is a 69-57 loss to Peetz in the season’s first weekend. That group of Bulldogs is the #2 seed in this region and they await the winner on Friday’s game.
Standing in the way of a rematch is a Deer Trail squad that has the worst record of any team that still has state tournament dreams. Despite their overall mark, the Eagles pushed a number of regional teams in their match-ups. The Eagles dropped a five-point game against Arickaree/Woodlin, a seven-point affair with Genoa-Hugo, and also lost to Elbert by 14 and Stratton/Liberty by 16.
The rest of the schedule was also littered with regional qualifiers, as the Eagles were handed lopsided defeats by Cornerstone Christian and Genoa-Hugo, as well as 2A squads Limon and Byers. The third place team out of District 7, Deer Trail is led by senior Cole Reed, who averages just over 15 points a game. He has reached double figures in 15 of the team’s 20 games this season.
Peetz will face the winner of the game on Saturday, and the Bulldogs will be doing something they haven’t had to all season long. They will be trying to get back into the win column after suffering a loss. The Bulldogs had reeled off 21 straight wins before falling to Heritage Christian in the District 4 title game. Logan Sircy, who was scoreless midway through the second quarter, finished with a team-high 27 points in that loss. His half-court heave at the final horn just rimmed off, or the Bulldogs would have escaped.
The Bulldogs only faced one 1A qualifier during the season, claiming that early victory over Otis. They also own wins over 2A qualifiers Haxtun and Sedgwick County, and a Creek Valley (NE) squad that is still alive in the Nebraska postseason. Â Their top rotation features six players scoring at least 7.6 points a game, led by Sircy at just under 18.
Should Otis advance to the regional final, it would be a rematch of a semifinal from last year. Peetz won a thriller over Otis in that contest, 56-55, played at Metro State University. That ended the season for Otis.
#4 GENOA-HUGO (14-8) VS #9 STRATTON/LIBERTY (9-13) 3:30PM FRIDAY
While the seeding committee has the freedom to move teams in order to avoid district tournament rematches in the semifinals, regular season match-ups can be repeated. That is the case with Genoa-Hugo and Stratton/Liberty. Those two squared off on Jan. 20th, with the Pirates earning an 81-76 victory. Caid Smith scored a game-high 30 points for the District 7 champions in the victory. That was a season-high for the senior, who averages 16.5 and has been held to single digits just three times this season.
Genoa-Hugo has won its last four games on the season, and enters with wins in nine of its last 10 overall. That stretch includes five wins over regional qualifiers. The Pirates went 6-5 in games against teams still alive, with two of the losses coming to Arickaree/Woodlin, and the other three against 2A squads.
Stratton/Liberty was seventh in the RPI among teams in the region, and despite owning wins over both Elbert and Deer Trail; both by double figures, the Knighted Eagles were dropped to the #9 seed to avoid match-ups with either Otis or Arickaree/Woodlin. Their run to a third place finish in District 5 highlighted how explosive they can be on offense. For a team that scored 60 or more points 16 times this season, the Knighted Eagles found another gear last week, scoring 91, 71 and 95 points in winning two of three games. Over the last eight, Stratton/Liberty is averaging better than 75 points a night.
Philip Pickard is one of three players in double figures for Stratton/Liberty, scoring 13 points a game. Jaret Lichty and Ethan Richmond both score between 10 and 11 a contest. Trevor Frank adds another eight per game. In the earlier loss to Genoa-Hugo, all four of those players were in double figures, combining for 59 points.
Whoever reaches the final will see the #3 seed, Longmont Christian (16-6) on Saturday. The Warriors, who finished third in District 4, boast a pair of high-scoring 6’5” players. Dominic Puchino is a sophomore who averages 23 points a game, while senior Michael Voigt adds 21. The rest of the squad combines for just over 17 a night.
All three of their losses to 1A programs were at the hands of Heritage Christian. Two of the remaining losses were against 2A qualifiers, Highland and Union Colony Prep. The Warriors also own wins over both regional qualifiers from 1A District 8, as well as 2A foes Denver Christian, Front Range Christian and Dawson.
SOUTHEAST REGIONAL — LA JUNTA HIGH SCHOOL
#6 SOUTH BACA (17-4) VS #7 MCCLAVE (12-9) 5:40PM FRIDAY
Showing the depth of the Southeast Region, South Baca is tied for the fewest losses of a team that has to play its way into a regional final. The other two teams also find themselves in the same regional. The Patriots had a 13-game winning streak snapped by Holly in the District 3 finals last week. The Wildcats had been the last team to defeat South Baca, back in early January.
The Patriots have four quality scorers, led by Walsh transfer Thomas Manuel at 22.5 points a game. The senior is also grabbing close to 16 boards a night. Micah Crane adds 21.4 points a night, followed by Shadow Varnado at 14.5 and Enrique Gutierrez at just over 10.
McClave felt the sting of those four Patriots in a late-January meeting, as that group tallied a combined 72 points in South Baca’s 84-60 win over the Cardinals. The Cards would go on to win seven of their last eight, including the final six in a row. That stretch run earned McClave a surprising District 2 title, as the Cards upset Cheyenne Wells (47-43) in the semis and Kit Carson (53-42) in the championship contest.
Waiting in the wings will be the top seeded Holly Wildcats (21-0). Along with the two wins over South Baca, the defending state champs also defeated McClave in their second game of the season. Holly’s winning streak has reached 47 straight, dating back to the third place game in 2016. The Wildcats went 6-0 against regional qualifiers, plus they own a win over Greeley County (KS), who is a sub-state semifinalist in Kansas.
#5 KIT CARSON (17-4) VS #8 WALSH (12-10) 3:00PM FRIDAY
Down the stretch, Kit Carson found itself in a number of close games. Starting with a 49-43 loss to Genoa-Hugo on Feb. 10th, the Wildcats played five straight contests that were decided by single digits. They followed that loss with a four-point win over Cheyenne Wells and a seven-point win over Kiowa to wrap up the regular season. The trend continued in the District 2 tournament, where after receiving a first round bye as the High Plains League champion, the Wildcats eked out a 43-40 victory over Cheraw. Finally, they suffered the narrow loss to McClave in the finals. Earlier in the season, McClave pushed the Wildcats to the limit before falling 50-44.
Walsh is familiar with Kit Carson, as the two met in the semifinals of the Lamar Holiday Tournament. Kit Carson jumped out to a 20-11 first quarter lead and then pulled away thanks to an 11-0 second frame. The Eagles tried to make a rally in the second half, but came up short in the 48-35 loss. Jayden McCombs-Farmer led all scorers with 16 points for the Wildcats, while Rylan McCall topped Walsh with nine.
After dropping consecutive games to Holly and South Baca, Walsh won eight of its last 11 games, claiming third place in District 3 along the way. The Eagles trailed Kim/Branson in the early stages of the third place game, but after gaining a 12-9 lead on a McCall three-pointer, they never looked back, earning the 74-57 victory. McCall finished with a career-high 21 points.
The District 6 champion, Creede (19-3) will face the winner on Saturday, looking to punch its ticket back to the state tournament. The Miners overcame a four-point halftime deficit to down Sierra Grande in the district title game 55-51 and earn the first round bye for regionals in the process. Creede’s last season run has seen the Miners put five straight wins on the board after a short two-game skid to Sierra Grande and De Beque.
Isaac Borchers (20.3 ppg) and Casper Freedle (14.0 ppg) combine for half of Creede’s scoring on a nightly basis. Behind those two is a group of four players averaging between seven and eight points a game. Marcos Romero leads that unit, followed by Finn Leggitt, Colter Simon, and Fisher Leggitt.
#4 SANGRE DE CRISTO (18-4) VS #9 CHERAW (10-12) 12:20PM FRIDAY
After spending most of the season atop the Southern Peaks League, Sangre de Cristo suffered two late season losses to Primero and Sierra Grande. The Thunderbirds would have to go through those same two teams in the District 6 tournament to reach regionals. After losing to Sierra Grande by six in the regular season, Sangre would fall by 10 to the Panthers in the semifinals, 67-57. That loss left them staring at an elimination game with Primero. The T-Birds would avenge a 54-50 regular season loss to the Bulldogs, claiming third place with the 58-36 victory.
A victory over Cheraw would give Sangre de Cristo a third shot at Sierra Grande, but the Wolverines will enter Friday’s game with confidence. Cheraw began the District 2 tournament as the #4 seed. The Wolverines gained a season sweep of Eads in the opener (55-50) before nearly upsetting Kit Carson in the semis. That near call boosted the Wolverines to a 42-41 upset of Cheyenne Wells in the third place game, eliminating last year’s state runner-up in the process.
Just like their opponent, the Wolverines are trying to gain a rematch with Sierra Grande. The Panthers earned a lopsided 58-28 victory over Cheraw in the regular season finale. Arthur Rodriguez, who leads 1A in scoring at 29.4 points per game, was held to a season-low 16 in that meeting. Urian Minchaca added 10 points, giving him four straight games in double figures. The senior is averaging just less than nine points a game, but has only scored a total of 12 points in the last three games.
WESTERN REGIONAL — GLENWOOD SPRINGS HIGH SCHOOL
NORTH PARK (8-13) VS FRONT RANGE BAPTIST (18-4) 1:30PM SATURDAY
It’s win or go home in the Western Regional, featuring teams from districts 1 and 8. North Park is the second place team from District 1, as the Wildcats upset Ouray in the semifinals (48-41) before falling to De Beque (76-50) in the title game. North Park only suffered two losses against 1A opponents all season, both to the Dragons. Five of their defeats were by 2A regional qualifiers, and two more came against a Wyoming team that has qualified for the 1A state tournament there.
Nic Martin’s 21.2 points per game average ranks him among the leaders in 1A, and the senior also grabs close to 13 rebounds a game. He has posted 17 double-doubles this season, including a career-high 39 points with 15 boards against Caprock Academy. Bryce Carlstrom is the only other Wildcat averaging double figures, checking in at 10.5 points.
Front Range Baptist is looking to make a return trip to state after reaching the field for the first time in program history last year. The Falcons went 0-2 in that appearance on the big stage, coming up short in an upset bid against Fleming and being eliminated by Creede/Lake City.
The Falcons return all but one key contributor from that squad, including Adam Poole (14.5 ppg), Deric Woods (13.7 ppg), and Austin Bates (11.8 ppg). Stephen Stallings is back for another season in the starting lineup, and last year’s sixth man, Noah Johnson has stepped into a bigger role this go-round.
DE BEQUE (14-7) VS CORNERSTONE CHRISTIAN (14-7) 4:30PM SATURDAY
After winning a total of 14 games over the previous seven seasons, De Beque enters Saturday with a chance to surpass that number this season. The Dragons have been a bit up and down lately, going .500 after opening the season with seven straight wins. They beat 2A regional qualifier Hotchkiss (54-45), but were then blown out by other 2A regional teams Rangely, Paonia, Vail Christian, and Meeker.
The Dragons were very impressive in a 92-78 victory over Creede on Feb. 9th as they led 70-49 entering the fourth. Brennan Rigsby tallied 36 points in the win, the freshman’s third time scoring at least that many in a game. He would do it one more time, going for 40 in the District 1 finals. Junior Dillon Bumgardner added a career-high 27 points in the win over Creede.
Cornerstone Christian saw its five-game winning streak snapped by Front Range Baptist in the final game of the District 8 tournament. The 51-46 loss was the second for the Bulldogs against the Falcons in the month of January, as they lost a 54-51 decision three weeks earlier. The Bulldogs faced four other regional qualifiers, losing to Cheraw and Longmont Christian, and then beating Deer Trail and Elbert.
Brandt Vos (17.4 ppg) and Christian Lambertson (12.0 ppg) have led the Bulldogs to their first winning season since 2008-09, when the program posted a 17-3 mark. Cornerstone Christian was eliminated by Otis in the regional round that year, the program’s first as a member of CHSAA.