The jockeying for postseason positioning begins to get even more interesting as the regular season enters its final month. Crucial match-ups can be found all over the map this week, many involving ranked teams.
Things get started on Thursday night with a clash between two of the three teams tied atop the 5280 standings. Belleview Christian (11-2, 27th RPI) plays host to Cornerstone Christian (7-4, 25th RPI), with both teams 2-0 in league action. Front Range Baptist (6-3, 32nd RPI) is the third program tied for the league lead.
Belleview Christian lost two of its first three games this season, but has since won 10 straight. Only one opponent has scored as many as 30 points during that stretch, and only three have reached that figure all year. The Bruins average close to 19 steals and more than seven blocks a game, helping keep opponents off the scoreboard.
Brooke Logan is one of the more well-rounded players for Belleview, averaging 14.5 points, 10.6 rebounds, 6.5 blocks, and 3.3 steals. While junior Tiffanee Ryan isn’t a big scoring threat at just four points a game, she adds 10 rebounds and team-highs in steals (5.0) and assists (4.1).
Cornerstone Christian also comes into the game on a winning streak, having put three straight in that column. That follows a three-game skid that included losses to 3A St. Mary’s Academy, and two very good 1A schools, North Park (7-4, 14th RPI) and Longmont Christian (8-5, 22nd RPI). The Bulldogs have faced a number of bigger schools, adding a loss to 3A The Academy and wins over 3A DSST: College View and 4A Denver West.
The last name Durrill shows up on the top of several stat columns for the Bulldogs, with freshman Bryn averaging 16.8 points, 7.7 boards, three steals and almost three assists a game. Morgan, a senior, adds 11.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.5 steals.
After winning three straight meetings in the series, Cornerstone Christian dropped last year’s contest with Belleview Christian, 44-31. The Bruins owned a seven-game winning streak in the series, taking every game between 2009 and 2014.
Thursday also has a pair of key non-league games, each featuring a team from the High Plains. Cheyenne Wells (5-4, 15th RPI) visits Genoa-Hugo (3-8, 30th RPI), while Eads (9-3, 21st RPI) travels to Wiley (7-4, 17th RPI). Cheyenne Wells knocked off Eads last Friday, 34-26.
The Tigers, winners of four of their last five, will look to stay hot against a Genoa-Hugo squad that has won its last three games after starting the season 0-8. Part of the recent success has to do with the return of Heather Graham, who suffered a fractured kneecap in the season-opener. While she has only scored a total of 27 points during the streak, her presence has taken some pressure off Ryely Smartt, who is averaging 16 a game during that span.
Cheyenne Wells got some good preparation for dealing with the pair of post players they’ll face, having had success limiting Mariah Smith from Eads to just four points and five rebounds in the win last week. The Tigers have two solid posts of their own in 5’10” junior Kaci Chadwick and 5’11” senior Meg Greenwall. The duo combines for 11 points and 10 rebounds a game. Arlet Esquivel shares the team lead in scoring with Chadwick, as both score just under eight a night.
After seeing its six-game winning streak snapped with the loss to Cheyenne Wells, Eads got right back on track with a 43-32 victory at Granada last Saturday. It marked the second straight game that the Eagles did not have a player score double figures. Miranda Mitchek, who is third on the team with just under eight points a game, led the squad with nine in the win over the Bobcats. Despite consecutive off games, Smith still leads the Eagles with 9.3 points and 7.5 rebounds.
With a 48-34 win over Cheraw (5-7, 20th RPI) last Saturday, Wiley has put four straight games in the left hand column. For the Panthers, the current winning streak followed a brief two-game skid that began with a 49-27 loss to Eads in the fifth place game of the Lamar Holiday Tournament. Their point total that night is their second lowest of the season, ahead of only the 25 the Panthers scored in a loss to #2 Kim/Branson (11-1, 1st RPI).
The High Plains is also home to one of Friday’s important contests, as McClave (6-5, 5th RPI) hosts Cheraw in league play. Seven of McClave’s games entering the week were against top 25 RPI teams, and with a non-league game against South Baca (7-5, 19th RPI) on Thursday, that number will grow. The Cards have dropped two straight heading into the game with the Patriots after falling against #1 Kit Carson (11-0, 2nd RPI) and #10 Springfield (7-3, 3rd RPI). Those losses came on the heels of their biggest win of the season, handing Kim/Branson their only loss two weeks ago. South Baca takes a two-game winning streak into Thursday’s game.
A fast start to the season quickly took a downward turn for Cheraw as the Wolverines have lost three straight and six of their last seven. Each of their last eight games have been against a team in the top 30 of the RPI, and five or their remaining seven are as well. Cheraw has lost 10 of the last 12 meetings with McClave.
Being outscored 29-9 in the third quarter caused #7 Antonito (8-3, 4th RPI) to drop its third game of the season last week to Sierra Grande. After trailing 32-20 at the half, the Panthers used that huge third period to upset the Trojans, 61-51. That win kept Sierra Grande tied for the Southern Peaks lead with #5 Sangre de Cristo (12-1, 8th RPI), while Antonito and #9 La Veta (8-2, 12th RPI) are tied behind them.
The Trojans will visit Cotopaxi (7-2, 7th RPI) on Friday, with the Pirates looking to improve their fifth place standing in the league. Antonito bounced back from the loss to Sierra Grande by knocking off La Veta, 55-35 the next night. Cotopaxi also comes into the match-up on a positive note, having taken care of both Creede (6-6, 36th RPI) and Centennial (2-6, 40th RPI) last week. The Pirates are looking for their first win over one of the better teams in the Southern Peaks, as they’ve fallen to La Veta (49-39) and Sangre de Cristo (46-20). They’ve also lost four straight games against Antonito.
League leaders meet on Friday in the YWKC, as Arickaree/Woodlin (8-3, 18th RPI) hosts Idalia (6-6, 24th RPI). The Indian-Mustangs made it two straight wins over the Wolves earlier in the season, taking a 39-21 win in the finals of the Jeff Sherman Memorial. Micah Koolstra led all scorers in that game with 17. The junior is averaging just short of 14 a game and has hit 12 of her last 24 three-point shots.
Idalia has struggled against top competition this season, losing all five games against teams in the top 25 of the RPI. That includes a 54-27 defeat by #3 Fleming (10-1, 10th RPI) last Friday. Breann Shaffer, who averages 12 points a game, had scored double figures in six straight games before being held to six by Fleming.
The winner will be tied with Otis for the league lead. Arickaree/Woodlin hosts the Bulldogs next week while Idalia is at home against Otis on Feb. 9th.
The San Juan Basin has a battle for second place on tap for Friday, with Ouray (6-5, 53rd RPI) hosting 2A Dolores (6-5). Both teams are chasing 2A Ignacio for the league lead. The Bobcats are unbeaten in the San Juan, while Ouray and Dolores each have one league loss.
Ouray has not lost since the break, winning four straight this month. The lone loss inside the San Juan for the Trojans came early in the year against Dove Creek (4-5, 34th RPI), 50-40. Lauren Fairchild provides almost half of the scoring punch for the Trojans, pumping in 17.6 points for a team averaging 35.3 a game. The junior also leads the team with 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.5 steals. She has had some ball control issues, committing over eight turnovers a game.
Dolores is also hot this month, winning all four of its games. The Bears dropped their last three games before the break, all by at least 18 points. Tatum Majors is the only player averaging more than six points a game for the Bears, with the junior checking in at an even 10 a night. She’s also tops on the squad with 8.6 rebounds a game. The Bears have won 11 of the last 15 games against Ouray.
Two of the biggest games on the slate happen on Saturday, with each featuring two ranked teams. Kim/Branson and #6 Holly (9-3, 11th RPI) will fight for supremacy in the Arkansas Valley, while Fleming hooks up with #4 Briggsdale (11-1, 6th RPI) in the North Central.
After losing its first game of the season to McClave two weeks ago, Kim/Branson made a big statement last week. The Mustangs backed up a 48-18 beating of Cheraw by giving Sangre de Cristo its first loss of the campaign last Saturday, 37-20. The Mustangs forced the Thunderbirds into 23 turnovers and held them to 21% shooting.
Holly saw its three-game winning streak snapped by Kit Carson last Saturday, as the top-ranked team handed Holly a 67-37 loss. Prior to the winning streak, Kit Carson had handed Holly its last loss, another 30-point defeat, 64-34. The Wildcats will have a tough road game on Friday, as they visit Springfield. It will be the league-opener for the Longhorns, who along with Wiley, are expected to contend for the Ark Valley crown.
Fleming and Briggsdale are meeting for the second time this season, with the Wildcats having held serve at home, 54-51, on Dec. 15th. Fleming’s only loss this season came a week earlier to 2A #4 Holyoke (51-34). A regular season sweep over the Falcons would all but lock up the North Central League crown.
Briggsdale has won seven in-a-row since that loss to Fleming, all by at least 28 points. The Falcons won three games last week by a combined tally of 189-83. They will use the high scoring quartet of Jodel Erickson (13.4), Skyla Miller (12.0), Ailaina Suppes (8.8), and Ashley Rueb (8.6) to counter Fleming’s big three of Alli Keisel (18.0), Jenna Lengfelder (10.9), and Kendyl Kirkwood (10.5).
Fleming has won 18 of 26 against Briggsdale, including four straight. Eight of the last 11 have been decided by fewer than 10 points.
While those two fight for the top spot in the NCL, Weldon Valley (8-4, 13th RPI) and Prairie (7-6, 28th RPI) will square off with sole possession of third place in the league on the line. The first time the two met, Weldon Valley claimed a 47-45 win on the road, as Britney Filter drained a 30-foot buzzer beater. Three of the four losses by the Warriors have come against either Briggsdale or Fleming. The remaining defeat came early in the season against Arickaree/Woodlin. They have a non-league game on Thursday at Beth Eden Baptist (6-7, 47th RPI) ahead of the rematch with the Mustangs.
Prairie had won five straight heading into last weekend. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, they had both Briggsdale and Fleming on back to back nights. They fell to the Falcons by a count of 65-37 and Fleming earned a 55-19 victory. The Mustangs had a 16-game winning streak over the Warriors prior to that last second defeat in their first meeting this season. Prairie still owns a 21-3 record over Weldon Valley since 2007.