Eight teams begin the final climb for a 3A boys state basketball championship this week. The eight have qualified through the district tournament automatically or earned a berth through RPI and then won two games last week to grab a spot in the state quarterfinals this week. A new champion is guaranteed as defending champion Lutheran was eliminated in the regional round last week.
St Mary’s is the top seed in the bracket and is trying to take the final step this year after falling to Lutheran in the state finals last season. The Pirate have just one loss on the season and will get a chance to avenge that loss if they and Centauri both win first round games on Thursday. That would set up a rematch between the two in the state semifinals on Friday.
Pace of course is the weapon for St Mary’s as they need just 36 points to reach 2,000 for the season. The offense averages 82 points a game and is directed by senior Sam Howery. He leads the Pirates in scoring (26.5) and assists (9.2) and is also second in third in rebounds from his point guard spot (8.6).
Andon Mindrup (15.4), Cyrus Hernandez (12.9) and Carson Faber (10.3) also score in double figures with Mindrup also leading the team in rebounds (11.8) and steals (5.1). Faber is also averaging a double-double with 10 rebounds a night.
Trying to slow down the Pirates will be first-time state entrant Eagle Ridge Academy (21-3). The Warriors are seeded eighth and picked up their two best wins of the season in regionals last week; downing Platte Valley on a buzzer beater (51-50) and then outscoring Highland (84-66). They score nearly 68 points per game and have scored over 80 points in four games this year. Offensively, the junior tandem of Hunter Hill (15.4) and Peyton Toress (13.8) are both averaging double figures.
Centauri has won 13 straight games including an impressive 57-36 victory over Salida in the regional final last week. As mentioned, the Falcons are the only team to beat St Mary’s this year and they did so on the back end of a long trip to Montezuma Cortez the night before. Baron Holman tops their offense with 17 points and the senior moved past 1,000 points for her career last month. He has a nice all-around game; also chipping in five rebounds, two assists and four steals per game. Mason Claunch is next on the scoring list (10.1) and he leads the club with six rebounds per game.
There is depth on offense as well as Chaz Holman provides 9.5 points per game with Kaleb Anderson, Leighton Curtis and Mason Sowards all getting between six and seven.
The Falcons of course won’t shy away from the pressure of a state championship as many of their players led them to the 1A state football championship last November. That list includes Anderson who booted through the game winning field goal in the final minute.
The opponent for Centauri is Colorado Academy. The Mustangs won the regular season Metro title by two games but then stumbled in the district tournament suffering losses to Manual and Faith Christian to finish fourth. Their strong RPI easily got them into the field and they knocked out both Moffat County and Pagosa Springs to advance to the Great 8. It’s their second straight appearance after falling to Manitou Springs during the COVID shortened 20-21 campaign.
Senior Elliott Cravitz paces the Mustangs offense with nearly 18 points per game. Much of his production comes from the outside where he’s knocked in 532 three-pointers and is shooting 40 percent from the arc. Robert McKee is the top rebounder (6.8) and also chips in over eight points a contest offensively. Ahbil Woldeyohannes (11.7) and Cooper Quatrochi (10.0) are two other double figure scorers.
Leading off the lower side of the bracket is another game between Sterling and Manual. They’ve played seven times since 2016 with Sterling winning six. The lone loss in 2019 when Manual scored a state tournament win (61-55) on their way to the championship. The Tigers won the regular season matchup this year 60-57 behind 21 points from Jackson Keil, 13 from Ryder McConnell and 10 from Ben Browning. Manual picked up 28 from Jordan Reed and 12 from Deshawn Fox.
No player statewide had a better Saturday than Keil as the Tigers blew past Eaton in the regional final. The senior was 9-10 from the three-point line with 31 points in the first half and went to finish with 11 and 45. Both are new school records. We could easily see him and Reed get into a shootout on Thursday as Reed pours in 29 points a game which includes a 53-point outburst against Peak to Peak on January 11th. He followed that up with three straight games of at least 40 points against Machebeuf, Prospect Ridge and Faith Christian.
Reed has 1,341 points on his career and Keil, who’s averaging nearly 21 points a game as a senior, needs 11 points to reach 1,100. Ironically, both players enter the state tournament with the same number of career three-pointers (144).
A Sterling win on Thursday puts them in the Final Four for a sixth straight year including a state title in 2017. Manual is making their usual postseason push and is in the Great 8 for a fifth straight and sixth time in seven years.
The final matchup on Thursday is another good between Aspen and Resurrection Christian. They’re seeded third and sixth in the bracket. Both won their conference championships in the regular season with Aspen doubling up with a district crown. Resurrection Christian fell to Sterling in the finals of the Patriot bracket.
Kind of a contrast in rosters in this one as Aspen may suit up 11 seniors and 1 freshman for the state tournament. Resurrection Christian is much younger as four of their top five scorers are either freshman or sophomores.
The game may be determined on how well that youth deals with the immense defensive pressure of Aspen. The Skiers can score points but get quite a few off turnovers with their rugged man-to-man defense. They’ve given up just 822 points (34.3) while racing to a perfect 24-0 season.
Ty Yoder is the freshman point guard for Resurrection Christian who will have to deal with the pressure. The son of head coach Ryan Yoder, he’s ahead of his time in understanding the game and also leads the Cougars with 14 points and nearly five assists a game. His job may be to get the ball inside to sophomore Jacob Barker who’s 6-8 frame will give him a size advantage against the Skiers. In a similar situation, Barker netted 14 points in the regular season win over Sterling.
Senior Ryan Ward (10.0) and freshman Cade Crutcher (6.7) also contribute on the offensive end. Ward has 62 three-pointers and Crutcher 32. Yoder has also connected on 39.
The Aspen features balance with the trio of Shae Korpela (16.2), Braden Korpela (13.7) and Porter Lee (13.7) all scoring in double figures. Lance Lee (7.5), Benjamin Godomsky (7.0) and Simon Holloway (6.9) all contribute as well.
One more thought involving Aspen and Sterling. If both clubs win on Thursday, they will pair up in the state semifinals Friday night. Sterling eliminated the Skiers from the state tournament last year with a narrow 54-52 win in the quarterfinals. Aspen has used that loss for motivation this year and it has helped them to their unbeaten record. Sterling then lost to eventual state champion Lutheran (56-50) in the state semifinals.