#7 Merino has a tough start in January as they face league rivals Caliche and #10 Peetz on back to back nights. PHOTO BY JOE SKERJANEC

It’s the first full week of play in 2020 and a number of teams are facing huge challenges. The most difficult just might belong to Peetz, who faces a pair of ranked opponents to get January off to a roaring start.

The Bulldogs, ranked #10, take on fellow North Central foe Briggsdale, ranked fourth this week, and #7 Merino on consecutive nights. The game with Briggsdale will hand the winner the early lead in the NCL, and will serve as the first of two meetings between the two squads.

Peetz will have the home court advantage for the first go round with the Falcons, a team they’ve defeated 22 of the last 29 times, including 10 consecutive entering Friday’s contest. The Bulldogs have had three of their first six games decided by single digits and they are 2-1 in those games. The lone loss came to Haxtun (58-53), and both wins are against Prairie, by one and four points.

Briggsdale will employ an attack that sees four players averaging at least eight points a game, led by Wyatt Patton at 17.7. The talented senior also grabs eight rebounds, while leading the team with 4.5 steals and 3.7 assists a night. Ty Dill is the top inside threat for the Falcons, scoring just under 10 points a game to go with nearly eight rebounds. Sophomores Malik Carlson and Braden Krise both score better than 8.5 points, and Luke Lambertson leads the squad with more than eight boards a night.

Merino also has a tough league contest prior to its meeting with Peetz, as the Rams visit Caliche for an LPAA clash on Friday. The Rams, who suffered their first loss of the season in the 2019 finale against 2A Burlington, have alternated wins and losses with the rival Buffs over the last five years, with Merino picking up a 63-39 victory at home last year. Overall, the series has had a very heavy lean towards Caliche, as the Buffs have won 13 of the last 17 meetings.

As for Saturday’s game, it will be tough for the Rams and Bulldogs to top the drama of their two meetings last year. Peetz earned a 72-70 win at home in early January with a buzzer-beater in OT. Seven weeks later, Merino avenged that loss with a 71-61 win over the Bulldogs in the District 4 semifinals.

Flatirons Academy may have the most taxing week of anyone in the class, as it plays four games in five days. The stretch began in a difficult manner as the 8th ranked Bison fell to 2A Heritage Christian on Tuesday. They look to recover on Wendesday against Mile High Academy and Blake Essex, who averages 16 points and 12 boards a game.

There will be no time for rest, as Thursday sees Front Range Baptist make a visit. The Falcons have been regulars at the state tournament in recent years under coach Jason Bell and they feature high scoring sophomore Daniel Macfarlane (23.6 ppg) this season. After a brief respite, the Bison will travel to #2 Evangelical Christian on Saturday, looking to hand the Eagles their first loss of the season. ECA has a Friday night contest with winless Cripple Creek-Victor head of Saturday’s big match-up.

Through the first six games of the season, Flatirons has been led by senior Jonah Cox, who registers 11 points and nearly eight rebounds a game. Trenton Rowan (9.7) and Noah Rumbyrt (9.5) give the Bison three solid scoring options. Jason Holt, with 14 made three-pointers, leads Evangelical Christian at 19 points a game. Sam Mote is also in double figures at just short of 11 points a night.

Ninth-ranked Longmont Christian, who faces Flatirons next week, is on the road this week for a pair of tough games inside the Mile High League. The Warriors start things off with a trip to 2A Dawson School on Wednesday and follow that up with a visit to Heritage Christian. Both opponents are just outside the top 10 in the 2A poll this week.

Four Warriors average better than eight points, led by senior guards Ryan Shellenberger at 15.7 and Nick Holst at 12 a night. Juniors Caleb Schanafelt and Daniel Vrooman each add 8.7 a game. Dawson is averaging 75 points a night, led by the senior duo of Coby Grant-Krenz (21.6) and Riley Burridge (19.0). Heritage Christian is paced by senior Jaden Johnson, who pumps in 22 points a game.

While none of the three teams involved are ranked, there are a couple of important contests this weekend featuring Springfield. The Longhorns travel to Cheyenne Wells on Friday to face a Tiger team that is not only unranked at 4-1 and 13th in the RPI, they did not receive a single vote in the most recent poll. Springfield is 10 spots lower in the RPI, so a win would be big for the Longhorns, who will have to find a way to slow down Quade Pelton of the Tigers. Saturday’s trip to Walsh might mean even more for Springfield, as not only do they trail the Eagles in the RPI, but that is a league contest. Walsh enters that contest having dropped its last game, a 57-52 decision to #5 Kit Carson in the championship of the Lamar Holiday Tournament.

Speaking of Kit Carson, the Wildcats ride a four-game winning streak into Friday’s High Plains League opener against Eads at home. The lone blemish on the record for Kit Carson was a 50-38 defeat by 2A #3 Limon in the season-opener. Included in the winning streak is a victory over 2A #7 Holly during the tournament in Lamar. They have won six straight against Eads and nine of 10 overall in the series.

Top-ranked De Beque takes a 31-game winning streak into Friday’s non-league contest against 2A Telluride. The Dragons have reeled off six straight victories to begin the season, with last year’s Player of the Year, Wes Ryan leading the way. The junior standout is scoring 27 points a night, but he’s far from the only scoring threat for the Dragons. Jaden Jordan is adding nearly 14 points a game, with John Chapman and Logan Wingfield each chipping in 12. Wingfield is also tearing down close to a dozen boards a night.

Genoa-Hugo opens Union Pacific play on Friday by hosting Limon. Both teams have just one loss on the season, and the winner will gain the inside track towards the league crown. Guard play will be key in the match-up, as Limon is led by Kory Tacha at 20 points a game. Brady Rockwell and Camden Smithburg each add nine a game for the Badgers. Tristan Lindt has been having a breakout season for the Pirates, averaging 13.5 points a game. He had a career-high 28 points in the 71-67 double overtime loss to Cheyenne Wells. Wyatt Miller adds 11 points a night, and Colby Simmons gives another eight for Genoa-Hugo from the perimeter.

Kerry Sherman

Kerry Sherman

Kerry Sherman is a lifelong resident of eastern Colorado. He started covering high school sports in 1991, focusing on the smaller classifications. He has also coached boys basketball at Woodlin, Otis & Weldon Valley. In his spare time, Kerry substitute teaches at area schools. He and his wife, Colleen, live on the family farm near Anton, along with their three Corgi mutts, Selene, Caesar & Helios.

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