Boys’ basketball teams across the state close out the January schedule in a big way this weekend as leaders in several conference collide in major matchups. The fun begins on Thursday with a much-anticipated game between Pueblo South and Pueblo Central and continues all the way through the Saturday battles between Highland-Denver Christian and Eaglecrest-Smoky Hill. We preview the entire weekend.
PHOTO PROVIED BY PUEBLO SCHOOL DISTRICT 60
The matchup of #1 Pueblo South and #5 Pueblo Central tonight has been moved to the State Fair Events Center to accommodate a large crowd. The battle is the first of two meetings between the clubs and the results of both will determine the top two spots in the 4A South Central. If one team can sweep the series, that club should end up with a top four seed in the 4A state tournament bracket.
The teams have a combined record of 31-1 with Central’s upset loss to Harrison in December the only blemish for either club. Central has won their first three league games by a combined 67 points and South a whopping 184. Included in that run for South is a 120-38 blowout where they sprinted to 105 points in the first three quarters.
There should be offense. South is led by the trio of Maurice Austin (23.8), Tarrance Austin (23.4) and Ray J Aragon (14.9). All scored at least 29 points in the win over Centennial. Central counters with the duo of Kayden Betts (23.3) and Syris Williams (20.0). Betts also averages 12.2 rebounds per game and has already compiled 13 double-doubles. Just a junior, Betts also needs just 61 points to reach 1,000 for his career.
Staying in Class 4A, Windsor has a chance to gain complete control of the Northern chase when they line up against Mead on Friday. That game was expected to a winner-take-all for the conference lead but with the defending champions falling at Longmont on Wednesday night, the Wizards now enter the game alone in first. They’re 4-0 with Mead, Holy Family and Mead all tied for second at 5-1.
Windsor is coming off a 61-50 win over Holy Family on Tuesday and also downed Longmont 49-44 last week. A win over Mead on Friday gives them a complete sweep of their top three challengers for the league championship. For Mead, the loss to Longmont was their first against a 4A team this year and they were under 55 points for the first time all season. Cole Corner dropped in 15 and Brendan Barczewski 14 for the Trojans who stayed alive for the title after dropping a league game to Centaurus earlier this month.
It’s another important two day stretch inside the 3A Metro where Colorado Academy goes to Lutheran on Thursday and Kent Denver heads to Faith Christian on Friday. The matchups feature four of the top five clubs in the race as Colorado Academy (3-0) and Kent Denver (4-0) share the top spot with Faith Christian (4-1) and Lutheran (3-1) tied for third with Manual (3-1).
CA’s best league win came against Faith Christian last Thursday. Elliot Cravitz scored 26 points and Robert McKee 12 in the 60-44 victory. The Mustangs won the rebound battle 25-18 and also collected six steals including two from Jayden Hill.
Lutheran’s top conference win came on the same night as they downed Manual 70-64 and it was a nice bounce back from the 16-point loss to Kent Denver nine days earlier. Sophomore Braydon Jacobs tops a balanced Lions attack with 12 points a game. His season high of 19 came in the loss to Kent Denver.
The Sun Devils need a bounce back against long-time rival Faith Christian. Ranked sixth in Class 3A, the Sun Devils were knocked off by DSST-Green Valley Ranch on Wednesday 73-58. It was just their second loss of the season and snapped a five-game winning streak. Green Valley got a great effort from sophomore Jovonnie Babineaux with 24 points, six rebounds and four assists. They’re now 8-4 and are the favorite to land the Confluence championship.
Faith Christian has beaten Jefferson Academy and Peak to Peak by a combined 33 points since the loss to Colorado Academy. They sit at 9-4 overall. Keegan Paige (16.6) and Carson Jasa (12.6) are their top two offensive threats.
#3 Aspen (3A) has outscored opponents 760-366 while rolling to their 11-0 start. They blasted 2A Vail Christian 83-36 on Wednesday but return to conference play against Grand Valley on Saturday. The Cardinals (6-6) came up short to Roaring Fork (61-55) this week so they need an upset to avoid falling two games off the pace. The Cards get most of their offense from Emilio Garcia at 24.5 points a game. the Skiers jumped to a 27-7 lead on Vail Christian in the first quarter and then added 46 more points over the second and third.
Two conference games of note in Class 2A pit Denver Christian at Highland and Vail Mountain at Meeker. Both matchups are set for Saturday.
The Denver Christian-Highland winner likely lands the Mile High championship. The Thunder are ranked second in Class 2A with Highland number eight in 3A. Overall, the clubs are 19-3 on the season including a perfect 9-0 in conference play. Neither has been pushed there as Denver Christian has outscored their four opponents by 114 points and Highland their five by 192. Both teams expect to gain another conference win before colliding on Saturday as the DC meets Dayspring Christian and Highland meets Longmont Christian on Thursday night.
Denver Christian has more experience as three of their top four scorers are seniors. Ben Buhler (14.8) tops the list followed by Xander Neu (12.1) and Aden Cariveau (6.8). Junior Derrin Quinn (7.2) sits third in scoring with freshman Andrew Schneider (5.9) also providing a spark.
Highland by comparison, has five underclassmen scoring at least nine points per game. Juniors Hyatt Tolle (18.3), Colton Steinke (11.7) and Hayden Rohn (9.3) combine for 39 points a night with sophomore Carson Steinke at 13.8. Freshman Sawyer Morgan earns 12 points and a team best 10 rebounds as well.
Vail Mountain (5-1) and Meeker (3-1) enter their matchup tied for second and one game behind Vail Christian in the 2A/1A Western Slope chase. Meeker already has a conference loss to the first-place Saints so they need the win on Saturday to stay within range of the leaders. A loss may make the conference title a two-team between Vail Christian and Vail Mountain. The Saints and Gore Rangers are on the schedule for February 5th.
Meeker comes in riding a six-game winning streak including a nice 57-50 decision over 3A Grand Valley. Four players reached double figures in the win; Liam Deming had 17, Zagar Brown 14 and Jace Mobley and Zach Simonsen 11 apiece. Defensively, they forced 29 turnovers and limited the Cardinals to 39 percent shooting. Brown had seven rebounds and Deming six assists as well.
The Cowboys cannot completely focus on Vail Mountain before Friday as they face their rivalry game with Rangely on Thursday. That’s a must win as well to make the Vail Mountain showdown a battle for second place outright.
Vail Mountain hasn’t played since January 22nd as their scheduled game with North Park on Tuesday turned into a forfeit win. They also own a quality 3A win as they downed Coal Ridge earlier this month (63-50). Cole Pattison and Spencer Hurd each netted 17 and Nick Kirwood collected 15 in the win. The Rangers outscored Coal Ridge 15-4 at the foul line and collected 42 rebounds to 31 for the Titans. Pattison (16) and Beck Sapp (12) led the rebound effort.
Dove Creek has a very difficult weekend on tap. First the Bulldogs (7-5) deal with #5 Mancos for a key San Juan conference tilt and then venture to #3 Sierra Grande for a nice-conference game in 1A on Saturday. The Bulldogs trail Mancos by just one game in the league standings and an upset creates a three-way tie for the league lead between the two and Ignacio (1-1). For that to occur, Kade Hankins must have a big game. He leads Dove Creek with nearly 25 points per game offensively
For Sierra Grande, the Saturday date with Dove Creek wraps up a stretch of three games in three days as they also go to Creede on Thursday and Antonito on Friday. Because of earlier postponements, the Panthers have ten games between now and February 17th on their schedule. They of course are coming off a big 57-39 win over then top ranked Evangelical Christian last Saturday. Brian Ontiveros had 18 and Isiah Chairez and Thomas Archuleta each 14 in the win. That trio also combined for eight three-pointers, seven steals and nine assists.
The smaller schools also have several other high-level non-conference games on the schedule including a few top 10 matchups. Results of course won’t factor into league standings but they will change up RPI standings which could change postseason bracketing next month.
- 2A: #1 Yuma at #9 Peyton (Saturday)
- 2A: #4 Limon at #3 Wray (Saturday)
- 1A/2A: #8 Merino (1A) at #4 Limon (2A) (Saturday)
In the big school division, many eyes will be focused on the Friday showdown between #1 ThunderRidge and #4 Rock Canyon. The Continental chase still has five teams within one game of the conference lead but these are two of the preseason favorites matching up. ThunderRidge (4-0) stands alone in first with the Jaguars (3-1) one of four teams with one league loss.
The Grizzlies did not show jet lag on Wednesday as they blistered local rival Highlands Ranch 83-46 just three days after returning from a tournament in Alaska. They outscored the Falcons 44-16 over the first and fourth quarters. 6-9 senior Zach Keller paces the Grizzlies with 16.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. He scored 33 points with 25 boards in the three games up in Alaska.
Rock Canyon already has a league loss to Regis (60-58) so the Jaguars must win to stay in the title discussion. They stayed alive with a gutsy 50-49 win over Douglas County on Wednesday behind 16 points from Gavin Hershberger and 11 from Braxton Jones. The free throw line was important as well as the Jags were 16-22 from the stripe compared to just 4-10 for Douglas County. Rebounds also went in favor of Rock Canyon (30-23) as Jones pulled down eight and Hershberger six.
Also on Saturday is a first-place showdown between Smoky Hill and Eaglecrest in the 5A Centennial. Each is 5-1 so the winner takes over the top spot midway through the league schedule. It’s the second meeting as Smoky Hill scored a decisive 78-60 decision to open Centennial play back on December 5th. Brayden Maldonado poured in 27 points and added eight assists in the win. Eaglecrest shot just 35 percent overall including a 6-29 effort from the arc. Mostapha Elmoutaouakkil led the Raptors with 28 which was a season high until he scored 30 against Arapahoe last week.
AROUND THE STATE
- Fleming heads to Briggsdale on Saturday and that outcome could determine the 1A North Central chase. Both teams are tied with Peetz (1-0). Briggsdale goes in as the favorite; they’re unbeaten on the season and ranked #2 in Class 1A
- Idalia can clinch the 1A YWKC crown by beating Arickaree/Woodlin on Friday. A loss drops them into a tie with Arickaree/Woodlin and Lone Star atop the standings.
- Byers heads to Burlington on Saturday and that game could be for a share of first place in the 2A/1A Union Pacific. We say “could be” as the Cougars also face Stratton and Flagler in league play on Thursday and Friday. Should they get by both clubs, then they move to 3-0 in conference and Byers will check into the Saturday game at 2-0. Limon is also unbeaten in the Union Pacific.
- Crowley County looks to stay near the top of the 2A Santa Fe standings as they face Holly on Friday and Rye on Saturday. The Chargers begin the stretch at 3-2 in league play and tied with Hoehne and Rye in third place. Holly (7-1) is in second with all teams chasing unbeaten Fowler (3-0). The Grizzlies also tangle with Hoehne on Friday so the top of the standings could change quite a bit by Sunday.
- Pagosa Springs heads to Alamosa for an early rematch in the 3A Intermountain league. The Moose picked up a 47-43 road win earlier this month in the first meeting and that result separates the two atop the league standings. Jayr Almedia scored 21 and Donovan Ramirez 10 for the Moose. Logan Harper led the Pirates with 11.
- Middle Park meets Pinnacle in an important game inside the 3A Frontier. The Panthers are 5-0 in conference play and tied with DSST-Montview in first place. Pinnacle is one game back and tied with Bennett and Academy in third place but the Wolves lost to DSST-Montview last week. A second loss in a crowded race probably eliminates them from title contention.
- It’s very early in the 4A/3A Colorado but the sorting out process continues this weekend with two games of importance. On Thursday, Englewood heads to Fort Lupton and then on Saturday Eagle Ridge Academy visits Aurora Central. It’s the league opener for Aurora Central but at 7-5 overall, they’re considered a candidate for the league title. Eagle Ridge was in the 3A Top 10 last week and sits 9-1 on the season and 1-0 in league action. They’re tied with Skyview and Fort Lupton in first. Englewood was the preseason favorite but a loss to Skyview last week leaves them one game out and in fourth place (1-1).
- Frederick begins a critical stretch where two wins give them the 4A Longs Peak championship. The Warriors (6-0) are alone in first by one game over Roosevelt, Severance and Riverdale Ridge. They’ve beaten Roosevelt and match up with Severance on Friday and then Riverdale Ridge next Wednesday. Severance was unbeaten in league action until Tuesday when they suffered a 71-39 loss to Riverdale Ridge. A win by the Silver Knights though sets up a four-way tie for the league lead.
- Early sorting also occurs in the 5A Jeffco where all nine members have played only two conference games or less. Chatfield and Dakota Ridge are both 2-0 with Ralston Valley and Columbine at 1-0. Those four collide on Friday as Chatfield heads to Columbine and Ralston Valley ventures to Dakota Ridge.