While it’s still very early in most conference races, two games on the 3A boys basketball schedule set for this week could be league championship games. #5 Vanguard visits #9 St Mary’s in a key Tri Peaks game on Tuesday night while the Saturday features a top Western Slope battle between Coal Ridge and Gunnison.
Based on early season results in the Tri Peaks, Vanguard and St Mary’s are likely to finish 1-2 atop the conference. There are other challengers such as Manitou Springs and Lamar but we believe the winner of Tuesday’s game will end up with the crown at seasons’ end.
Both clubs are coming off 100-point efforts in league wins last week. Vanguard exploded for 70 first half points in their 102-47 win over Ellicott while St Mary’s “settled” for just 63 points in the first 16 minutes of their 103-40 decision over Trinidad. Sam Howery paced St Mary’s with 24 points, Cyrus Hernanded added 23 and Luke Stockleman. Vanguard collected 29 from Joseph Padilla, 28 from Dominique Clifford and 17 from Guillermo Morales.
Even though both surpassed the century mark last week, overall season numbers favor St Mary’s in that category. They average a whopping 86 points per game compared to 67 for Vanguard. The Coursers though have more experience in big games after racing to the 3A state finals last Spring. Vanguard has won five straight since a loss to Faith Christian and that string includes a high-quality victory over 4A ranked Northfield. St Mary’s has captured wins in their last three following a lone loss to Resurrection Christian.
St Mary’s also has a second difficult test later this week as they visit Manitou Springs on Friday. The Mustangs are coming off a 74-47 win at La Junta last week where 11 players scored. They were led by Joey Allen with 14 and Lars Marquardt with 10. Overall, Manitou connected on a dozen three-pointers.
Gunnison (8-1) and Coal Ridge (6-3) have the best two records in the Western Slope as no other team has more than four wins on the season. That makes their game in Gunnison on Saturday very important to the championship as we again project the winner to earn the championship trophy. Since the Titans also have Delta and Grand Valley on the schedule next week, they can take major strides to the league title with wins in each. They also meet Basalt on Tuesday of this week.
Coal Ridge is led by Austin Gerber on offense. His average bumped to 17.7 following a 31 point outburst in last week’s win over Vail Christian. Gerber is on a hot-streak overall; averaging 23 over his last four games. Andrew Herrera (9.4) and Hank DiMarco (9.0) can also score the ball with DiMarco adding a team best 5.2 rebounds a night.
Gunnison’s only loss is against University in overtime at the Buena Vista Tournament last month. Their best win is likely against Pagosa Springs in that same event. Stats are not posted for this season but the Cowboys do return Hunter Wood who led the team with nearly 17 points a game during last year’s 17-win season. He tallied 25 and 23 in two games against Coal Ridge a year ago. The clubs split those two meetings with the Cowboys taking the regular season matchup and the Titans the district battle.
The most important game in the Patriot is set for Friday between University (8-1) at Resurrection Christian (8-0). Resurrection Christian opens the week ranked number one in Class with University checking in at number eight. Two other league teams, Sterling (#3) and Eaton (#10) are in the rankings this week and together four schools have a combined 31-3 record. Friday’s game starts off a critical eight day stretch as Eaton plays both University and Sterling next week while Resurrection Christian and Sterling also tangle.
There is familiarity and respect between the two schools as University coach Bobby Irvin was a long-time assistant to Bruce Dick at Resurrection Christian. Both teams like to push tempo as the Cougars average 79 points per game with University at 68. Resurrection Christian features seven players with a least six points per game; led by Reece Johnson (18.4), Isaac Jessup (16.6) and Jackson Romero (10.4). Johnson and Jessupe combined for 28 points and 15 rebounds in last Friday’s win over Colorado Academy.
University enters the week off a hard fought 60-58 win over Machebeuf. Jaden Humphrey led the offense with 23 points; Tayt Chacon had 12 and Alex Martinez 10. Ben Smith added five assists and nine rebounds while Andre Chacon pulled down ten boards.
Eaton and Sterling both have two games up this week. The Reds go to Estes Park on Tuesday and then return home to face Platte Valley on Friday. The Tigers are at home on Tuesday against Valley and will visit Brush three nights later.
Record wise, Centauri (9-0) has the best record in the IML but the Falcons will get challenged by Pagosa Springs, Montezuma Cortez and Alamosa. All four teams have enough talent to win the title so it should make for an interesting race. In such a tight battle, home wins are a necessity so that gives Pagosa Springs the most difficult opening week. They host Montezuma Cortez on Friday and remain at home against Centauri on Saturday.
The Pirates have lost two of three including a 51-37 setback to Sanford last week. They also fell to Eaton in the first game after Christmas and in-between registered a win over Colorado Springs Christian. Montezuma Cortez has momentum from two rivalry wins last week as they stuffed Durango (64-45) and rallied past Ignacio (70-66) to win the Southwest Classic.
Against Durango, the Panthers were held to just six first quarter points but then exploded for 23 in quarter number two. Cortez also rallied from 15 points down in the first half to hand Ignacio their first loss of the season. Thomas Carter hit a clutch three-pointer late against Ignacio and Adrian Mark scored all of his 17 points in thes econd half.
Centauri has played just one game this month; beating Sanford 47-34 so they will have nearly two weeks of prep time before facing Monte Vista on Friday. That game will also give them a chance to knock off some rust before making the drive to Pagosa Springs. The Falcons have a good mix of talent and depth and have the ability to beat teams from both the outside and inside.
Lutheran and Faith Christian duke it out on January 21st and that game is expected to determine the top two spots in the Metro but there are several other challengers including defending state champion Manual. The Thunderbolts (3-4) head to Colorado Academy (4-5) in a battle of teams below five hundred but ones that could challenge for a top four league finish. Lutheran has just one game this week as they host Prospect Ridge on Wednesday. Faith Christian is at home for two games against Skyview Academy (Wednesday) and Stargate (Friday).
Two unbeaten teams to keep an eye on are DSST-Byers (6-0) and Englewood (7-0). Both get solid tests this week as Englewood hosts Denver North on Tuesday and Byers goes to Pueblo Central on Saturday.
Englewood was number one in RPI last week but slid to the second spot this week. Their schedule overall is a bit suspect as their best win is against Durango (66-54) at the Mitchell tournament. They should contend for the 4A Colorado 7 crown as Nate Gravagno and Gunner Johnson combine for 30 points a game. Their most difficult remaining game may be against Weld Central on January 28th.
DSST-Byers opened the season with a strong win over Coal Ridge but has not faced many top tier opponents overall. They’re still 8th in RPI and favored to win the Confluence conference. Top challengers there could be Ridgeview Academy (6-1) and DSST-Green Valley (7-1). Kyrie Thomas (24.0) and Elijah Thatch (17.0) form a high scoring 1-2 punch.