Two weeks remain in the boys basketball regular season and teams across the state used the past week to take the lead in their respective league race or stay in position to win league championships down the road. Our notebook for this week will look back at the important wins and teams that continue to make noise ahead of the fast approaching playoffs.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY FAITH CHRISITAN ATHLETICS
Starting in Class 1A, it appears the Merino Rams are again making their traditional late season push. They opened the season 3-3 but have won eight of their past nine games including a crucial win over Holyoke on Saturday that kept them tied with Yuma atop the 1A/2A Lower Platte standings. Those two clubs collide on Thursday to break the tie. Even with a win, Merino must still get by Haxtun and Wray before claiming the championship.
Regardless of how those games end up, expect Merino to make a deep postseason run. They’re led by one of the top players in Class 1A in Derrick Alber who can easily put together a double-double on any given night. A lanky 6-5 senior, Alber can hit the three-pointer or get to the rim on offense and then on defense, he can serve as the last line of defense when the Rams pressure the perimeter. He’s also a tremendous rebounder. The senior will go toe-to-toe with the likes of Clay Robinson (Yuma), Mac Tempel (Haxtun) and Bryant Schoenthal (Wray) to prep for the postseason push.
Tempel plays a very similar game and has helped Haxtun with some quality wins in the past couple of weeks. Also a 6-5 standout, the junior is very good with his back to the basket but can also step out the arc and drain three-pointers. He did not score a ton of points but was still a factor as the Bulldogs handed Briggsdale their first loss of the season last Wednesday. Those two clubs and Merino will make for a tremendous District 4 tournament.
Saw McClave for a second time this season and they were very impressive in beating Cheyenne Wells on the road last Thursday. The Cardinals scored 20 straight points at one point of the first half and put together another 20-0 run to pull away in the second half. This is a very dangerous team to the postseason but like Merino still has work to do to win their conference championship; they close with Wiley on February 17th and Granada the next night. All three teams head into this week without a conference loss.
The Cards have a tremendous point guard in Edquardo Verdu and he’s flanked by wings in Aiden Martinez and Aydin Gomez. Both can shoot on the outside but also play down low to take advantage of smaller opposing guards. And McClave has good size in Ricardo Cazzaniga and Connor Forgue. Cazzaniga is the starter and has the ability to score with his back to the basket or facing it from 15 feet out. Forgue provides good depth off the bench and seems to be at his best in the low post. Both are factors defensively as well.
The 5280 conference has had four teams in the top 10 at various times this year but right now it seems that Denver Waldorf might be the team to beat in the district tournament. The race is crowded and the Spartans suffered an early loss to Front Range Baptist but balanced it out by beating defending state champion Belleview Christian (52-49) last week. They also have recent wins over 3A Jefferson Academy (57-51) and 4A Adams City (64-57).
Against Belleview, Will McHenry scored 21 points and Dylan Quinn 19. They also combined for seven three-pointers while McHenry also logged a whopping 19 rebounds.
Waldorf has a big date with Denver Jewish Day on Tuesday and then closes the week against 4th ranked Evangelical Christian. Both games will tell us how far the Spartans may go in the postseason as all three teams should be ranked in the top 10 again this week.
Let’s also give a shoutout to Hanover as the Hornets are 10-1 and in position to win the 1A Black Forest championship. They got there by beating Simla in overtime (55-53). Devin Johnson and Nick Maciel each scored 20 and Josh Yoder added 11 in the win. Maciel added 13 rebounds for a double-double.
Not much time for the Hornets to celebrate as they tangle with Evangelical Christian on Monday. This game is a makeup from a postponement last week. With Hanover beating Simla, it sets up as the likely league championship game even though ECA still has a date with Simla to close their schedule.
In moving to 2A, let’s revert back to the Lower Platte where top ranked Yuma barely avoided their second loss of the season as they stunned Holyoke 41-39 on Friday. Clay Robinson had the game winner on a bank shot in the closing seconds as the Indians moved to 15-1 on the season. Their lone loss came against 3A Eaton in double-overtime before Christmas. As mentioned, they’re tied with Merino atop the conference and will meet the Rams this week. A win on Thursday probably secures the league crown as the Indians will be heavily favored against Caliche and Sedgwick County in their final two games.
If not before the weekend started, Denver Christian is now officially the favorite to land the District 5 championship later this month. The Thunder picked up a road win at Limon last month and then added another road victory at Byers on Saturday (55-40). The Badgers and Bulldogs, and possibly Lotus, are considered the top challengers in the District 5 bracket. With those two wins, DC is probably the number one seed as well.
It was the 10th straight win for the Thunder who also picked up a nice win over 3A Highland the Saturday before. Losses have been suffered to 3A top five members Colorado Academy and Sterling.
Even though Crested Butte lost to highly ranked Sanford on Saturday, the Titans still had a good week and gave some notice they will be a tough out in the playoffs. They prepped for the Sanford battle by beating Del Norte 53-39 last Tuesday and then pushed the Indians for a full 32-minutes before falling 43-37. The Titans could easily end up with the number two seed in districts which could set up rematches with both teams in the district bracket.
Senior Erik Wasinger scores 17 points a game to lead the Crested Butte offense while Alan Prieto (14.0) and Grayson White (11.8) also score in double figures. They’re also the top three rebounders and defenders. Prieto had 23 in the win over Crested Butte while Ben Barney added 10.
Watched a tremendous 3A battle between Sterling and Resurrection Christian on Friday. The two rivals have split the last ten meetings so it was no surprise that this one went down to the final tenth of a second. Resurrection Christian gained the 56-53 win as Sterling’s game tying three-pointer came just after the clock hit zeroes.
It was a very exciting and well played game between two clubs that could easily meet again for the district championship and somewhere farther down the line in the playoffs. Both were unbeaten in the 3A Patriot with Resurrection Christian now in position to win the championship with Sterling the likely runner-up finisher.
Equal in talent, the Cougars and Tigers are completely different rosters. While Sterling is senior and junior dominated, Resurrection Christian starts two freshmen and two sophomores. However, the Cougars are not building for the future as the goal is to win now; at least that’s the message Coach Ryan Yoder gave KFKA Radio announcer Clark Johnson before the game.
There is no reason to wait. Freshman Ty Yoder leads the Cougars in scoring (15.0) and is a great floor leader. Backcourt mate and senior Ryan Ward is a very good outside shooter and is second in scoring (11.3). But maybe the player with the most potential is 6-8 sophomore Jacob Barker. He averages seven points and four rebounds a game but he made several dynamic plays at the post and gave Sterling fits on the inside the entire night. Barker finished with a game high 14 points in the win.
Even with the tough road loss, don’t expect Sterling to go anywhere. This program has reached at least the Final Four each of the past five years with a state championship included. Jackson Keil is one of the best players and scorers in Class 3A and he showed off his talents against Resurrection Christian. The senior knocked in 28 points and it was his potential game-tying three-pointer that did not count as time ran out. Keil scored from the arc, on the drive both left and right and also showed off a tremendous pull up game offensively.
Ryder McConnell is another key player for the Tigers. He also had a critical and very late three-pointer wiped off the scoreboard when an off the ball foul was called right before the shot. He and Keil both have big game experience for the Tigers and coach Mike Holloway can rely on both in critical situations late.
Faith Christian and Prospect Ridge both scored key wins inside the 3A Metro last week. The Eagles beat Lutheran 47-45 last Tuesday and then overwhelmed Machebeuf 75-49. The two wins kept the Eagles one game back of Colorado Academy atop the standings. They have a loss to the Mustangs so they will need to win out and get help from another Metro team to claim the regular season championship. Up next for Faith Christian is another major test with Manual on the road this Thursday.
The win against Lutheran was high quality as the Eagles trailed 22-11 after the first quarter. The offense then came alive and the Eagles defense did not allow more than eight points in any of the three remaining quarters. Keegan Paige scored 15 and Master Diggins 11 for the Eagles.
Prospect Ridge jumped into a third place tie as they stunned Kent Denver 88-77 on Friday. The win moved the Miners to 4-2 in league play and tied with the Sun Devils and Manual in the league race. They also have a win over Manual earlier in conference play so right now Prospect Ridge has the leg-up on any tiebreaker. The Miners may also get a break as their postponed game with league leading Colorado Academy may not be made up; at least that’s the word through social media. In a quick check of the MaxPreps schedule, a make-up date is not currently listed. The Miners instead next face Lutheran on the road Wednesday night.
Centauri climbed back into a first place with Alamosa in the 3A Intermountain as they cruised by the Moose 60-29 on Friday. The two local rivals will meet for a second time on February 15th and there’s a good chance that game will decide the top two spots.
The Falcons pulled away with a strong second half; outscoring the Moose 38-17 in the final two quarters. It was their third straight win since a league loss to Pagosa Springs on January 22nd. They also collected a fourth straight victory by beating Buena Vista on the road Saturday (41-29).
The 4A Western Slope race sure tightened up this past week. Palisade entered Thursday unbeaten in league play with a one game edge on Steamboat Springs and by two over Eagle Valley. With games against both challengers, Palisade had a chance to basically wrap up the crown but with losses in both, all three teams remain very much alive for the title. Steamboat Springs took over the top spot by beating the Bulldogs 66-59 on Saturday; leaving Palisade and Eagle Valley tied for second. Kellen Adams scored 15 for the Sailors with Parker Lindquist (14), Cade Gedeon (13) and Brady Adams (10) also reaching double figures. Palisade also placed four in double figures including 17 from Paul Steinke.
Looking down the road, the only head-to-head matchup remaining between the three leaders is on February 17th when Steamboat Springs and Eagle Valley meet for a second time. The Sailors won the first battle 50-31.
Sand Creek (8-10) is below five hundred for the season and only 37th in RPI but they scored an upset of 8th ranked Holy Family last week and that could push them to a stronger finish with momentum going into the playoffs. The win (38-33) was badly needed as it came on the heels of three straight conference losses to Falcon, Classical Academy and Elizabeth. They have rematches with all three including a home date with Falcon coming up on Wednesday but first the Scorpions look to build on momentum against Sierra on Monday night. Sand Creek rolled the Stallions 77-34 in the first contest.
Green Mountain avenged their lone Jeffco league loss by beating Golden 60-51 on Friday. The Demons had won the first meeting 48-38. Corbin Jantzer netted 17 points and Cayson Pearson 12 in the win which turns the Jeffco conference into a two-team race between the Rams and D’Evelyn. They’re separated by one game in the league standings with Green Mountain taking game one 53-51. The rematch is this Friday.
In Class 5A, Eaglecrest is hitting stride at the right time. They followed up quality wins over Cherry Creek and Smoky Hill from the week before by taking out Cherokee Trail 47-33. It was the Raptors 8th straight and left them one game up on Overland in the Centennial chase. They beat the Blazers 64-51 and lost the second game to bad weather. Right now it appears the rematch will not be made up due to the shortage of officials across the Metro.
And we saved the best win of the week for last and it goes to Vista Ridge as they stunned Air Academy 45-44 on a last second three-pointer. But it’s not the game winning shot that’s noteworthy, it’s the fact that the Wolves rallied from a 26-0 hole to start the game. They trailed Air Academy 21-0 after one quarter and then 26-0 before scoring their first points of the game midway through the second quarter. In the second half, Vista Ridge outscored the Kadets 34-16 to pull off the remarkable rally.
Dan Mohrmann of Single Wing Media has a recap of the game at the CHSAANow.com website. Despite the win, Vista Ridge is in fourth place in the rugged 4A/5A Pikes Peak race and still sits one game back of Air Academy. The Kadets are 6-2 and tied with Doherty in second place but botha re two games back of Lewis Palmer (8-0). Vista Ridge (6-3) is three games back in the loss column.