Kim/Branson is ranked 8th in Class 1A this week and heads into the first of many tough games against local rivals when they face Springfield on Friday. PHOTO BY KIM PHELHAM

With many of the top teams in the rankings either having the week off or facing games in which they will be heavy favorites, the focus lands upon games that impact league or district races. A number of them are in the North Central and District 4.

Prairie entered the week sitting tied for second in the North Central, but fourth in the potential seedings for District 4. The Mustangs already picked up an important 75-64 victory over #9 Caliche on Tuesday. That moved them up a spot in the district RPI ahead of Friday’s non-league clash with Merino, who had been ranked until last week’s loss to Caliche. It will also be impactful in the district standings, as Merino currently sits seventh.

Three of Prairie’s four losses on the season have been by single digits, including a seven-point defeat at the hands of #4 Briggsdale in mid-December. Balance is the key for the Mustangs, who had five players in double figures in the win over Caliche on Tuesday. David Speicher led the group with 14 points.

Merino has been struggling to get back to full health after the Rams were hard hit by injuries during the latter stages of the football season. Still, the Rams come into the week with just two losses on their record, one a two-point defeat by Caliche in double overtime last week, and the other a narrow decision to 2A Burlington just before the holiday break.

Fleming and Peetz meet up on Friday and they are part of the tie for second in the NCL. Peetz fell out of the rankings this week after dropping games to both Briggsdale and Merino last week. The Bulldogs have another tough contest next Tuesday, as they square off with 2A #10 Sedgwick County, but their focus must be solely on their league rival.

Fleming also enters the game on a down note, having fallen to Sedgwick County 56-30 in its last outing. No Wildcat reached double digits in that loss. The Wildcats will be attempting to snap a six-game skid against the Bulldogs, who own a slight 19-15 edge in the last 34 meetings.

Briggsdale, who leads the NCL, only has one blemish on its record entering Friday’s non-league clash with 2A Union Colony, and that was against the top-ranked team in Class 1A, De Beque. The Falcons have strung together five straight wins since that early season loss to the Dragons, and the streak is likely to reach six before Friday’s game. Briggsdale hosts Weldon Valley, a team over whom the Falcons already own a 60-16 victory this season. Wyatt Patton averages just under 18 points a game to lead the very deep squad, with five others scoring at least five points a night.

Longmont Christian is another team that will factor into the District 4 fray, and the Warriors have a difficult slate this week. They’ve already fallen to #5 Flatirons Academy (59-52) on Wednesday, after beating Denver Waldorf (67-36) on Monday. The Warriors wrap up the week by hosting 2A #4 Denver Christian on Friday. Of the three games this week, that is the only one that counts in the Mile High League standings, and Longmont Christian is 0-2 in the league.

Ryan Shellenberger tops the Warriors at 15.1 points a game, but he is far from their only option. Five more players score between five and 10 points a night. That scoring depth will be tested by a Thunder team that has held each of its last five opponents to 49 points or fewer. Ben Buhler (17.5 ppg) and Ethan Liebert (10.9 ppg) both averaging double figures for Denver Christian, and Henry Vandenberg nearly makes it three for the Thunder, checking in a 9.9 a game.

The southeast portion of the state sees two key match-ups this week, both involving teams from the Ark Valley. On Friday night, Springfield hosts #8 Kim/Branson, and the Longhorns cannot afford another loss if they hope to challenge for the league title. They fell to Walsh 67-50 last Saturday, putting their losing streak at two and dropping them two games below .500 on the season.

Kim/Branson has not allowed a single opponent to score more than 49 points in a game, and the Mustangs will enter the contest having posted a season-high 84 against La Veta in their last contest. The Mustangs had won five straight against Springfield before suffering a 64-60 defeat in the district tournament last year. Darian Schaller, who leads the Longhorns at 12.5 points a game, had 10 in that win as a sophomore. Joe Buhrle, Kim/Branson’s leading scorer at 10 a night, had a dozen in that loss as a freshman.

The other big game in that area of the state takes place on Saturday and it has Ark Valley leading Walsh hosting Cheraw in non-league play. The win over Springfield snapped a two-game losing streak for Walsh, who has now won two straight after tacking on a 63-58 win over Stanton County (KS) on Tuesday. One of the two losses on Walsh’s record was by five points to #6 Kit Carson in the finals of the Lamar Holiday Tournament and the other was to an out of state opponent.

Cheraw has posted six straight wins since suffering its only loss of the season, with the last two coming over South Baca (56-40) and La Veta (41-35) last week. That winning streak will be on the line on Friday, as the Wolverines will be on the road at McClave for a High Plains League tilt. Those two tied for the league title last year, with Cheraw taking the crown on a tie-break thanks to an 18-15 win in the regular season. McClave is off to an 0-8 start this season, so the Wolverines should be 8-1 heading into the game at Walsh.

Crossing the mountains, there’s one really big game in the southwest corner of the state, as #7 Ouray hosts 2A #7 Mancos on Saturday. Ouray opened the week at 6-2 after dropping a 57-44 decision to 3A Aspen last week. The Trojans are just 1-2 in their last three games, 46.5 points in the losses. They’ve scored at least 64 points in each victory. Channing Green leads the team with 19.6 points and 8.9 rebounds a game, while Jackson Leo (16.9) and Liam Miller (13.0) are also scoring double figures. That trio will try to help right the ship on Friday when the Trojans visit Ridgway, a team they defeated 68-61 in the season-opener. Those three combined for 50 points in the win, led by Miller with a game-high 24.

Three straight wins have pushed Mancos to 6-2 on the season. The last of those was a lopsided 76-41 victory over Monument Valley (UT) on Tuesday. The Bluejays put together a 31-6 second quarter to go into the break leading by 31 and they never looked back. Anthony Medina (22) and Caden Showalter (21) led four Bluejays in double figures in the win. That was a season-high for Medina.

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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