The four teams still standing tall in the Class 4A state boys basketball tournament are no strangers to this stage.
Headed into Friday night’s semifinals at Denver Coliseum, the 4A Final 4 has a combined 10 appearances in the semis since 2015. Each of the four have made an appearance in the championship game since 2009, and two of them have combined to win three of the past six championships.
So while it isn’t a surprise to see No. 1 Pueblo South, No. 2 Lewis-Palmer, No. 5 Longmont or No. 6 Pueblo West on the sport’s biggest stage, that doesn’t diminish the path that each team took to reach this point.
On Friday, No. 2 Lewis-Palmer and No. 6 Pueblo West tip things off at the Coliseum at 4 p.m., followed by top-seeded Pueblo South and fifth-seeded Longmont.
Saturday’s 4A championship game is set for 3 p.m. at the Coliseum.
In taking a look at each of Friday’s matchups, let’s also take a look back to how each team made it this far:
#2 Lewis-Palmer (24-2) vs. #6 Pueblo West (20-6)
4:00pm – Friday
These two teams have not met up this season, but both have plenty of recent history at this stage in the tournament. Lewis-Palmer won state in 2012 and 2013 and fell just short to Valor Christian a year ago (in the same No. 6 seed that Pueblo West currently occupies).
Pueblo West won the 4A championship two years ago over Valor Christian. The Cyclones made the quarterfinals last winter, but rival Pueblo South ended the team’s run 64-62.
The Rangers took down Sierra in the second round before dispatching Pikes Peak League and Monument-area rival Palmer Ridge in the third round. That led to a quarterfinal matchup with Widefield of the Colorado Springs Metro, where it took a Matthew Ragsdale 3-pointer in the closing seconds to post a 70-67 victory.
Joel Scott finished with 31 points, his second 30-plus-point performance of the postseason (he had 33 against Sierra). The 6-foot-6 junior leads Lewis-Palmer with 19.4 points a game and 7.1 rebounds. Ragsdale averages 16.8 points; three more players — seniors Carter Kreischer and Salim Nehme and junior Ethan Forrester — add around seven points a game.
The team opened the season with 13 victories in a row before dropping back-to-back games to Liberty and Palmer Ridge. But the Rangers have regrouped, winning their next 11, averaging 70 points a game during that span. The 67 points allowed to Widefield was tied for the second-most given up in 26 games.
Pueblo West has lost four games in the second half of the season, and two of those came to top-seeded Pueblo South. The Cyclones were reeling a bit after dropping four of seven, but West has taken its past five games. That includes victories by nine points over Discovery Canyon and two points over Mesa Ridge in the playoffs before Saturday’s 57-48 triumph over Ponderosa.
Senior Nieyem’e Smeyer-Williams leads the Cyclones in scoring at just more than 15 points a game, and Pierre Taylor adds 13.5 points. Senior Jacob Wilkinson is just shy of 10 points a game.
One question facing West is how it will handle playing away from home. Five of the team’s six losses this season were on the road, and all three playoff victories came at Jerry Kersey Gymnasium. Pueblo West did go 3-0 in a tournament at a neutral site in Colorado Springs.
#1 Pueblo South (24-2) vs. #5 Longmont (24-2)
5:30 pm – Friday
The second semifinal pits the state’s hottest team against a program that bounced back from an off-year in a big way.
The top-seeded Colts dropped two of their first eight games before going off on its current 18-game winning streak. Pueblo South’s first loss came without some of its top players while the school was pursuing the 4A state football championship in early December. The only other loss came Dec. 14 to Lewis-Palmer, but the team has been on an impressive run since that night.
South made the 4A state semifinals last March before falling to that same Lewis-Palmer squad. The majority of the Colts’ lineup returned, though the team did graduate leading scorer Deshiloh Stanley.
Pueblo South’s defense has been leading the way over the past few weeks, allowing a little more than 41 points a game since the start of February. In the three postseason victories, South has allowed 32, 26 and 50 points; the latter came in a 59-50 triumph over defending state champion Valor Christian that the Colts broke open in the fourth quarter.
Senior Marcell Barbee leads Pueblo South at 18 points a game. Senior Tonay Aragon adds 14.8, and senior Jeremy Cody — the team’s tallest player at 6-6 — isn’t far back at 13.1.
Longmont is making its third Final 4 appearance in four years, having reached the title game in 2015. The team was just 13-12 a year ago but still made the second round of state.
This season the Trojans dropped their second game in overtime to Golden before reeling off a 20-game winning streak. That run came to an end with a loss to Skyline in the regular-season finale that dropped Longmont to the No. 5 seed, but the Trojans handled Cheyenne Mountain by 30 points in their playoff opener. Longmont edged Windsor 59-56 in the third round before going on the road to defeat No. 4 Falcon 62-54 last Saturday.
Senior Luke Johnson has been the team’s biggest scoring threat this season, averaging 19 points a game. Sophomore Dallas Dye goes for eight points a game and leads the squad with 5.4 rebounds a night, while juniors Beck Page, Brady Renck and Calvin Seamons average right around seven points. Johnson is one of only two seniors on the roster.
Like Pueblo South, Longmont gets the job done with defense. The Trojans allow only 42.2 points a game, and have allowed opponents to score more than 60 points only twice all season.