The first week of 2018 has a light schedule in the smallest classification, but that doesn’t mean that big games cannot be found. Four of the six featured games this week have 1A programs facing teams from the next class up.
One of the key contests this week takes place in the Union Pacific, a league that has three 1A squads and three in 2A. Limon (4-1) finished December just outside to the top 10 in 2A and the Badgers will take a two-game winning streak into Friday’s road league game at Genoa-Hugo (4-2).
Limon opened the season with a pair of wins in the Kiowa Tournament, defeating Dayspring Christian (39-37) in the first round and then downing Twin Peaks Charter (47-39) for the title. Camden Smithburg led the Badgers in scoring both nights, tallying 11 and 16. The freshman averages 14 points a game, and has been in double figures every contest to date. Fellow freshman, Kory Tacha, is second on the squad with 9.2 points, despite being shutout in the team’s 52-43 win over Evangelical Christian.
The Badgers have been stingy on defense, allowing an average of 41 points a game, including a season-high 49 in a nine-point loss to Crowley County. Tacha and Smithburg both average more than two steals a game, as does Cannan Bennett. Celby Hollenbaugh and Braden Sandersfeld both record 1.6 thefts per night.
Genoa-Hugo finished second in the Jeff Sherman Memorial Tournament at Woodlin in the season’s opening week, defeating Idalia before falling to Arickaree/Woodlin in the championship game. The Pirates went on to win three of their next four games before the break, with the only loss coming to 2A Byers (70-41). That loss has the Pirates playing catch-up in the league standings.
Much of the scoring load has been shouldered by Caid Smith, with the senior averaging close to 19 points a game. He tallied a season-high 24 in a win over Flagler/Hi-Plains and has scored at least 15 points in every contest. Ben Miller is next on the squad at eight points a night. Both also do it on defense, with Miller posting 4.4 steals and Smith adding another four.
Another 1A vs 2A match-up on Friday has Sangre de Cristo (5-1) visiting Rocky Ford (3-2) in non-league action. The Thunderbirds roll into 2018 on a four-game winning streak that began with a 43-41 decision over Cheraw in the third place game of the T-Bird Shootout. Included in the winning streak are wins over two 2A programs, South Park (47-35) and Custer County (64-50). Their only loss came to #3 Creede in the semifinals of the T-Bird Shootout.
Three T-Birds are averaging double figures in scoring, led by juniors Manuel Lopez at 15.2 and Jake Slane at 13.3 per night. Sophomore Cole Christensen rounds out the trio with 12.3 points a game. Christensen leads the squad in assists (4.3) and steals (2.3), while rebounding honors belong to Slane (6.3).
Rocky Ford has already been busy in Santa Fe league play, posting a 2-1 record. The lone loss came against #2 Crowley County (50-22) in the season-opener. The only other loss for the Meloneers came at 3A Trinidad (58-55).
Cheraw (3-3) and Eads (3-3) open High Plains league action on Friday, and with the league looking to be up for grabs, every game carries extra importance. The host Wolverines faced a tough schedule in December, losing to #11 Sierra Grande (58-47), #13 Sangre de Cristo (43-41), and #4 South Baca (68-54). Two of their three wins came against 2A opponents, Dolores and Miami-Yoder. The third was a one-point decision over Cornerstone Christian.
Eads, in its first season under former Eagle standout Marcus Gilmore, enters having won three of its last four contests. That includes a consolation championship in the always tough Lamar Holiday Tournament. The Eagles bounced back from an opening round loss to Wiley (64-41) to take down Granada (72-28) and McClave (41-40).
Gilmore has four players who can score the ball with regularity, led by Brigden Parker at 17.3 at game. The freshman also leads the team in steals (3.7), blocks (2.2) and is second in rebounding (10.7). Zach Haase contributes a double-double of 11.0 points and 10.8 boards. Damian Hernandez adds 9.3 points and Trey McDowell chips in 8.0. That senior duo is one and two on the team in assists, combining for a little over seven a game.
One of the top games on Saturday has #8 Kit Carson (4-1) hosting Arickaree/Woodlin (4-2) in a non-conference clash. Both teams have first year head coaches, with Damon Dechant, a 2007 graduate of Kit Carson, taking over the reins for the Wildcats, and Shawn Watson calling the shots at Arickaree/Woodlin.
The Wildcats suffered their only loss to date in the finals of the Lamar Holiday Tournament, falling to #1 Holly (46-28). It marked the only time this season that they had failed to score at least 41 points in a game and just the second time an opponent scored more than 35. No one averages double figures for Kit Carson, but six players score between 4.6 and 9.8 points a game. Jayden McCombs-Farmer is tops at 9.8 and William Hornung is next at 9.0.
Arickaree/Woodlin has had some early success in adapting to Watson’s new uptempo offense, averaging 62.5 points a game. However, in their two losses, the Indian-Mustangs only tallied 53 and 54 points. The season has been one in which they’ve won two, lost two, and won two. They will look to snap that pattern on Friday when they visit Flagler/Hi-Plains. Four juniors lead the way for the Indian-Mustangs, with Kevin Ramirez (20.0), Michael McCaffrey (10.0) Andy Miller (9.8) and Arturo Ramos (8.0) combining for almost 48 points a night.
Saturday will also see two big non-conference games in the northeast corner of the state. Peetz (6-0), #2 in 1A, will travel to 2A Merino (3-3) and Fleming (2-3) visits 2A #1 Sedgwick County (5-0). Both are match-ups between the North Central and Lower Platte.
Peetz has won every game by at least a dozen points to date, with a game against an improved Briggsdale squad on tap prior to the trip to Merino. The Bulldogs are the clear favorite to win their second straight NCL crown under Sean Fehringer, and they enter the weekend averaging 68.5 points per game.
Logan Sircy leads a deep group of scorers with 17.5 a night, followed by Gabe Naegele at 9.3 and Jake Curlee at 9.2. Four more players contribute at least 5.8 points a game.
Merino alternated wins and losses during December, with the wins coming against Akron, Otis and Holyoke. The losses were to Haxtun, Simla and Limon. The Rams will host another NCL squad on Friday, as Prairie pays a visit.
Fleming will be road warriors this weekend, travelling to Pawnee on Friday for a NCL game against the Coyotes before making the trip to Sedgwick County on Saturday. The Wildcats dropped three of their first four games this season, including a 66-60 heartbreaker against Haxtun, in which they had a fourth quarter lead.
They responded by closing out 2017 with a 65-54 league win at Weldon Valley, without their starting post, Paul Asfeld. Freshman Cade Comstock has stepped up to relieve some of the scoring pressure on Matthew Tanner and Brandon Williams.
Dating back to the start of last season, Sedgwick County has won 29 of its last 31 contests. The Cougars finished second in 2A last year, falling to Holyoke by three in the title game. They avenged that loss with a four-point victory over the Dragons in the final game of December. That was only their second game decided by fewer than 20 points. Before hosting the Wildcats, the Cougars will welcome fellow LPAA foe Wiggins to town on Thursday.