The theme of our boys basketball Sunday notebook will follow the girls where we run through some schools under the radar in each class. But before we get there, want to report a bit on a couple of top four matchups we saw on back-to-back nights this past week.
The latter came on Saturday where we made the drive to Fort Garland to take in the 1A boys contest between #1 Evangelical Christian and #4 Sierra Grande. The game was added to the schedule at mid-week when both schools had a game cancelled. We liked the matchup but it ruined our projections of both teams possibly going unbeaten. We made that statement when this game was not on the schedule but of course the head-to-head matchup ended the chance of both teams ending 19-0.
Sierra Grande won the contest 74-59 and did so impressively. We came away with the thought that the Panthers are the second best club we’ve seen in Class 1A this year; trailing only Granada. Other teams in the top five right now are Briggsdale, ECA and McClave with Merino pushing for a spot there. Please note we’ve not seen Haxtun in person, any team in the 5280 conference or Caprock Academy on the Western Slope.
The Panthers, as always, play up tempo and they have the personnel to do it. The key though is Isiah Chairez. Easily one of the top players in the classification, the senior did not start as he had missed some practices with an ankle injury. But entering the game midway through the first quarter, he changed the game quickly with three immediate three-pointers to give the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish. Chairez is about the only size offered by the Panthers and he’s asked to do a lot but can leap with anyone and several times flashed tremendous hands.
Another key for Sierra Grande is Brian Ontiveros and we really like his style of play. The sophomore stands maybe 5-4 to 5-5 but there is no fear to his game. He has a great release from the three point line, can get lower than any defender and that allows him to get into the lane where he scored a few times against the much bigger ECA interior defense.
Despite the loss, Evangelical Christian will still be in the mix. The Eagles, going in, were probably over ranked at number one and the setback will probably allow them to settle in where they belong at number four or five. They will battle Simla for the league championship and are a strong contender for one of the eight state tournament slots.
Against Sierra Grande, the Eagles struggled with the pace as they would prefer to use their size in the half court. They are big at three spots with Michael Mann, RJ Wagner and Jon Bunker. That group helped the Eagles do a good job on the glass on both ends. Michael Kim is a solid point guard as well so they have a good nucleus to make a postseason push.
The second top four clash came the night before when #1 Yuma ventured to #3 Wray inside the 2A Lower Platte. Regardless of location, the county rivals always play in front of a large and raucous crowd. Friday was no exception as both sides were filled with purple and red.
Yuma won the game 61-52 to sweep the regular season series as they also beat the Eagles by ten points back in December. Meeting number three could come in the district final and I won’t be surprised if they pair up in the state tournament for round four.
The Indians simply wear opponents down both physically and mentally with their pressure defense and up tempo offense. Opponents must play a full 94 feet on each possession and that’s difficult to do for an entire 32-minute game. Plus the Indians have the advantage of turning to Clay Robinson when they need points. Quiet in the first half against Wray, it appeared the Indians made a concerted effort to get him the ball in the third quarter and he responded with several big baskets. He’s a four year starter wanting his second state championship.
Despite not having two of their top eight players, Wray kept coming. Both missing players were guards and that hurt the Eagles against the aggressive Yuma defense. After an initial shock though they settled in and did a good job the rest of the way. They were within 58-50 in the final two minutes and misfired on two three-pointers that could have put morelate game pressure on the top ranked Indians.
Bryant Schoenthal and Andrew Trejo played well for the Eagles and that’s to be expected as they were both critical components in their championship run last year. But also want to mention Joey Uyemura. He’s now the point guard for the Eagles and improved throughout the night against the pressure. It will only help his development through the second half of the season. He also made open shots with confidence and made two big threes as the Eagles stayed within range in the fourth quarter.
Now with apologies to the likes of Denver Christian, Limon, Mancos and Sanford, we still believe Yuma and Wray are the best two teams in Class 2A. As mentioned before, they’ve combined to win the last three state championship tournaments completed and both were in the Final Four when the 2020 season was cut short. Yuma is the pick to land the title this year and Wray should again be in the running as they’re not intimidated by the Indians as they face them 2-3-4 times each year.
Now let’s move into teams below the radar and we begin in Class 1A with McClave and Simla. We saw the Cardinals at the Lamar Holiday Tournament in December and thought if they come together, there are pieces to make a state tournament run.
The Cards (7-3) came together in a big way on Saturday as they drilled Springfield 79-39. The Longhorns are another team that can do well late in the season so we were surprised by the big 40 point margin. The Cardinals opened with 22 first quarter points and added another 21 in the second for a commanding 43-19 halftime lead.
Aiden Martinez entered the game as the Cards’ leading scorer and only strengthened his hold with four three-pointers and 31 points. He hit 13 of 20 from the field overall. Eduardo Verdu added 23 points on 10 of 14 shooting as McClave made 34 of 63 field goal attempts.
Looking far down the road, McClave and Granada close the regular season on February 18th. Could be a lot riding on that game; a league championship, the top district seed and confidence entering the playoffs.
Simla (5-3) also has a late season clash with Evangelical Christian (February 15th) that will have a similar setup in the Black Forest. The winner likely earns the league title and the highest seed for the district bracket. The Cubs are very young and face a strong second half schedule that should have them to ready to compete in the postseason. They face Limon and Cheraw this week and also deal with Peyton and Stratton before tangling with ECA.
Limited choices in Class 2A but we settled on Vail Christian and Del Norte. Vail Christian (9-2) has a non-league loss to Vail Mountain but the Saints are alone atop the Western Slope at 5-0. They’ve already beaten both Meeker and 1A Caprock Academy in league matchups so their date with Vail Mountain on February 5th could decide the top two spots.
Quinn Downey (11.5) and Leo Rothenberg (10.3) are the two double figure scorers for the Saints. Rothenberg exploded for 29 in last Friday’s win over Hayden. Downey’s season high is 18 against Lake County and he nearly matched that with 17 in Saturday’s win over DeBeque.
There’s a great chance that Del Norte (6-3) will be the top challenger to Sanford in the Southern Peaks race. The Tigers were set to face Ignacio in a game that would have given us a good read on both teams but COVID has postponed that matchup. Del Norte hasn’t played since January 11th but scored a solid 62-43 victory over Center. Ben Parra dropped in 20 for the Tigers with Brennan Velaquez (13) and TJ Sanchez (12) also reaching double figures. The game with Sanford is on the road on February 19th, the final day of the regular season.
In Class 3A, we really like the win by Pagosa Springs over #5 Centauri on Saturday. The Pirates had already suffered a league loss to Alamosa so another setback would have probably taken them out of the IML title chase. They stayed alive by handing the Falcons their first loss of the season. Gunner Dozier scored 13 and Logan Harper and Kayson Shahan each added eight. Breck Wilson added two steals.
With momentum from the win, don’t be surprised if the Pirates make a late season push. They’re coached by Wes Lewis who had great success for many years running the Pagosa girls program. They were a routine visitor to the Final Four and won a state championship so Lewis knows what it takes to reach the Great Eight and win three games once there.
Platte Valley also had a solid week; scoring a late home win over Brush (39-37) and then playing well in a loss against top ranked Sterling (60-50). Max Zenk scored 20 points including the game winner against the Beetdiggers as the Broncos finished the game on a 9-1 run. Zenk again led the way with 15 and Aaron Rios had 10 rebounds against Sterling.
We saw the Broncos get the win over Brush last Tuesday. They may be a year away from a serious state tournament push as their entire roster is mainly juniors and sophomores. Zenk has great length and can score from 5, 15 or 20 feet away as he has good range with his shot. The junior also uses his long frame at the point of the Broncos 1-3-1 three-quarter court pressure.
Other key players for Platte Valley are also juniors in Cambren Mundell and Zach Uyemura. Mundell is another Bronco with size while Uyemura can run the point and also shoot the three. Freshman Taylin Short also gives nice energy off the bench.
Two more tough tests greet the Broncos this week as they battle Resurrection Christian on Tuesday and Kent Denver on Saturday.
Despite an overtime loss to Eaton and wins over University and Strasburg in December, not many 3A eyes are on Highland anymore. That’s because they drop back into the 2A dominated Mile High conference and don’t see many games against 3A competition the rest of the season. They do face 2A #2 Denver Christian on Saturday in a game that likely determines the league championship.
The Huskies are even younger than Platte Valley so they could also be a year away. The top four scorers are underclassmen including freshman Sawyer Morgan. He’s averaging 12 points a game which is third best on the team and his 9.6 rebounds lead the Huskies. Junior Hyatt Tolle is the leading scorer (18.3) and hands out four assists per game. Brothers Carson (13.8) and Colton Steinke (11.8) also score double figures for the high scoring Huskies.
Englewood and Salida are also on our 3A list. The Pirates are 7-2 and spent some time in the rankings earlier this year but losses to highly ranked St Mary’s (80-64) and Colorado Academy (52-50) forced them out. Now they’re focused on landing the Colorado conference title and their battle with #10 Eagle Ridge Academy on February 3rd should determine the winner.
Salida (8-4) sits tied for third with Buena Vista and Banning Lewis in the Tri Peaks. The loss to Colorado Springs Christian last Tuesday hurt their chances for a top two league finish but they face an important game with Banning Lewis this Thursday and then close the regular season against Buena Vista.
Much of the focus in Class 4A this year has been on the big five of Pueblo South, Lewis Palmer, Mead, Montrose and Pueblo Central. So even though Windsor and Holy Family are in the top 10 this week, we have them as our picks for under the radar. Many fans out there believe the state champion will come from the first group of five so the Wizards and Tigers are hoping to break through.
Ironically they meet on Tuesday and the outcome will start to sort out the logjam atop the Northern conference standings. The Tigers (5-0) and Wizards (3-0) are both unbeaten in the conference and tied with defending state champion Mead. Longmont sits one game back with a league loss to Centaurus keeping them from having a piece of first place.
With two out of state losses and a setback to 5A Rocky Mountain, Windsor is unbeaten against 4A competition. They’ve won five straight including hard earned conference wins over Centaurus (48-42) and Longmont (49-44). David Hagemen had a big day against Longmont with 23 of the team’s 49 points. The Wizards also recorded 10 steals including four from Parker Seybolt.
Holy Family (11-3) opened 1-2 but has won 10 of their past 11. The loss was a tough one to swallow as it came against in-city rival Broomfield on January 13th. Since then, the Tigers have won three in a row including a tough 53-51 decision against Silver Creek. Jackson Ward (14), Gabe Tafoya (13) and Rocco Bridges (10) led a balanced attack. Tafoya hit three treys and Bridges had two.
A third team in 4A to watch is Thomas Jefferson (9-5). The Spartans always have a misleading regular season record but the tough slate gets them ready for the state tournament where they routinely win two, three or even more games against teams with much better records. They did suffer a surprising loss to 3A DSST-Green Valley last Thursday (47-42) which snapped a four game winning streak.
ThunderRidge continues to be the 5A state championship favorite with Fossil Ridge and Denver East the most likely top challengers. There are several clubs on our “radar” list including Mountain Vista and Highlands Ranch from the Continental and then Doherty, Air Academy and Vista Ridge from the Pikes Peak league.
Air Academy (10-4) and Vista Ridge (12-3) are both coming off strong efforts against a highly ranked team in 4A. The Kadets fell to #1 Pueblo South (72-53) on Saturday while the Wolves pushed #2 Lewis Palmer to overtime before falling 62-60. Doherty (10-3) has played a pair of two point games of late. They’re 1-1 with a 48-46 loss to Lewis Palmer and a 68-66 win over Air Academy. Andrew Reichert (12.2) and Christian Drummond (12.1) basically share scoring honors for the Spartans but it was Jake Corsi, with 21 points, that carried them past Air Academy. Corbin Garver matched that effort for the Kadets which pushed his scoring average to 17.5 per game.
Mountain Vista (11-4) and Highlands Ranch (10-5) compete in a very talented and very deep Continental league so despite where they end up, both will be playoff ready. Each has won two of their first three conference games and they enter the week sharing second place with five other teams. All are one game back of ThunderRidge.
The Falcons and Golden Eagles meet in a fun one to close the week on Friday but neither is focused on that matchup just yet. It’s because both have a top three opponent up first. The Golden Eagles meet #3 Denver East on Monday and the Falcons take on #1 ThunderRidge the next night.