With most conferences only playing one or two games thus far, it’s still way too early to decide which teams will end up with championships. But the sorting out process continues this weekend with several important games on tap in the various leagues.
In the Mile High, five teams have a share of the early lead as Highland, Clear Creek, Gilpin County, Dawson and Denver Christian all sit unbeaten at either 1-0 or 2-0. At least one will fall off the pace on Friday as Highland heads to Idaho Springs to meet Clear Creek. Clear Creek is the newest conference member as they’ve moved in from the 3A Frontier but the Golddiggers are a familiar foe having played in the district tournament the last couple of years.
Pace could be the biggest concern for Clear Creek as Highland scores 79.2 points per game. Clear Creek has reached the 70-point level on two occasions so they may look to slow down the Huskies attack. Tate Bessire (17.0), Koby Anderson (16.0), Jace Bessire (11.4) and Holden Morgan (10.4) all average in double figures with Logan Stewart (7.6) an effective fifth scorer. The Huskies have 52 three-pointers on the season with the Bessire brothers combining for 27 and Stewart 14.
Clear Creek counters with Ben Griffin (15.0), Lucas Gerding (12.9) and Reese Onago (10.3) in their attack. Griffin tallied 19 points and 12 rebounds with three steals in last week’s win over Union Colony Prep (56-41). Gerding added 13 and Onago 11.
Highland also met and toppled Union Colony Prep last week for their first conference win. But while the Golddiggers collected a 15-point win, the Huskies rolled to an 81-23 decision. That makes them the favorite on Friday.
A second league game of note Friday night has Longmont Christian heading to Denver Christian. The host Thunder are on a good streak after beating Limon 47-34 last week and Front Range Christian 59-39 earlier this week. They opened the Front Range Christian on a 16-0 run and held serve from there. Against Limon, Jeff Amidon dropped in 14 points and Eu Asefaw and Luke Vander Horst each chipped in 10.
Longmont Christian dropped out the first-place logjam on Tuesday night with a 48-46 loss to Dawson. It was a difficult loss as they led the Mustangs 36-28 through three quarters but were outscored 20-10 over the final eight minutes. The loss balanced out a quality 38-34 win over Heritage Christian last week.
Up first though for Longmont Christian is a Wednesday test with top ranked Cornerstone Christian from Class 1A. The Bulldogs are unbeaten at 8-0.
Another early race with crowded standings at the top is the Western Slope where Meeker, Rangely, DeBeque, Paonia, Vail Christian and Soroco all remain unbeaten in conference play. Paonia is 2-0 and Soroco 3-0 with the remaining teams just getting started at 1-0.
Vail Christian plays the biggest role in the sorting out process this week as they visit fellow first-place squads Rangely and Meeker Friday and Saturday. The Saints scored a very impressive 73-68 win over Plateau Valley last week. Meeker rolled North Park 54-27 last week and should be 2-0 when they meet Vail Christian since they visit Caprock Academy the night before. Rangely’s conference win came at the expense of Hayden (46-42) as Micah Zenner dropped in 15 points.
Soroco (5-3 overall) is among the most improved teams in Class 2A as the Rams have already surpassed their win total from each of the past two years. They won four games last season and the same amount two years ago. The Rams are getting 17 points and 12 rebounds a game from senior Grant Richmond. He netted 18 in last week’s victory over West Grand.
Beating 1A DeBeque will be a tall task as the Dragons are among the league championship favorites. Brennan Rigsby (19.5) and Wes Ryan (18.0) are in the discussion as the best scoring tandem in the smaller school ranks and together they also collect 17 rebounds a game. Dillon Baumgardner (10.8) is a third double-figure scorer for the unbeaten Dragons. They topped Hotchkiss 76-47 on December 12th in their only conference action.
Holly took a major step to winning the Santa Fe championship with their 54-40 home win over Fowler last Saturday. The game was tight throughout but the Wildcats quickly extended a six point to 12 midway through the fourth quarter to take control. The Wildcats are the lone unbeaten left in the Santa Fe and also have wins over other top challengers Swallows Charter and Rocky Ford. They do not face either Fowler or Swallows Charter a second time with the Rocky Ford rematch set for February 8th.
Fowler must rebound quickly from the loss as they host both Swallows Charter (Friday) and Rocky Ford (Saturday). There are several conference games left after this week but wins in both should move Fowler very close to a top two league finish. This is their only meeting with Rocky Ford but they play Swallows Charter a second time on February 12th in the regular season finale.
Against Holly, the Grizzlies battled early foul trouble but still picked up 13 points apiece from Val Leone and Zane Denton and they hung in there despite shooting just 25 percent from the field. It was their first game back from Christmas.
Rocky Ford has won four straight since a loss to Limon. Christopher Gonzales scores 20 points a game while Tate Davis (8.1) and David Trujillo (6.8) combine for nearly 15. All three are seniors.
Swallows Charter has won four in a row inside the conference following the season opening loss to Holly. Devon Jones (12.8) and Jared Garrett (11.9) are the top two offensive threats. Garrett went for a game-high 22 in last week’s hard fought 49-40 win over John Mall.
With regular league champion Ignacio not playing up to their normal standards so far this year, the San Juan chase is considered wide open. 1A Ouray and Mancos remain our favorites and they share the top spot with Ridgway and Dolores. Telluride (0-1) could also contend as they join Ouray as the two league teams with an overall winning record.
Dolores has the most difficult weekend as they host Ignacio on Thursday and Telluride Saturday with a quick road trip to Ridgway sandwiched in on Friday. So, three games in three nights.
The Bears edged Ignacio 68-65 in the season opener last month as Tristen Swagerty poured in 36 points on 12 of 29 shooting. He had just one three-pointer but hit 11 of 13 free throws in the win. On the season, the senior averages 23 points a game.
Ridgway has a league win over Nucla (64-37) and has captured two straight wins overall. They lost to Ouray in a non-league game earlier this season (52-35) but matchup again with the Trojans on Friday. That’s the fourth top game inside the conference this weekend. Kaden Forrest (10.6) and Tyler Kraft (9.7) lead the Demons offense.
Telluride came up short to Ouray (42-40) in their lone conference outing. Saturday’s trip to Dolores will be their first action of the New Year with their last game coming in a loss to Durango (45-30) on December 20th.
Mancos has just one game on tap this week and they’re favored to get a win at Norwood. The schedule stiffens next week with contests against Ignacio, Ouray and Ridgway.
In the Lower Platte, Yuma, Wray, Haxtun and Merino were first week winners and all sit at 1-0 to start off a nine-game conference schedule. Yuma entertains Wray this weekend in the headliner as those two county rivals meet for a second time this season. The defending state champion Indians collected a 55-45 win in the first gathering. Jakob Chrisman totaled 17 points and 18 rebounds in the win and Chase McCreath added 10 points. Wray picked up 16 from Samuel Uyemura.
While the record doesn’t show it, Wray (2-7) is vastly improved from past year as they’ve responded nicely to first-year coach Karson Kuntz. The Otis native is very familiar with Northeast Colorado basketball and has created some excitement back in the Eagles camp. They outscored Holyoke 77-73 last week to gain a league win. Justin Pecar went for 27 points and Junior Arambula 22. They combined to hit 18 of 27 shots while the rest of the team was just 4 of 24.
Pecar and Arambula though struggled in the first game with Yuma. They combined for just nine points and made just three of 20 combined shots.
Yuma rolled to 7-0 by thumping Akron 70-34 last Friday. Jonathan Rascon led the way with 16 points and freshman Clay Robinson tallied 13. Chrisman registered another double-double with 10 points and 13 boards.
Haxtun and Merino drop into Class 1A for the post-season. The Bulldogs take the short trip to Holyoke for their league contest with the Dragons. They won the December battle 56-49. Merino is away from the Lower Platte schedule this week with a single game against Prairie. The Rams are coming off a frustrating 72-70 setback to Peetz where they lost on a shot at the buzzer in overtime.
The Southern Peaks race shapes up to be a good one with familiar names likely to battle for the top spot. Sanford (4-4), Del Norte (3-4) and Sargent (3-4) are all hovering around 500 at the start of the conference play but they remain the favorites. Center (2-5) could also push for a top three finish based on their recent strong effort in last week’s loss to Rocky Ford (52-46).
Based on scheduling, Sanford may remain the favorite overall. Six of their seven in-state games are against 3A clubs including a narrow 40-38 loss to Pagosa Springs last week. That competition level should help them against conference rivals this month and next. They host South Park on Friday and then visit Crested Butte on Saturday. Round one games with Sargent (19th) and Del Norte (26th) come up later in January.
Del Norte has not won or lost two consecutive games this season. They host Crested Butte on Friday and then go to Center on Saturday. The Tigers get most of their offensive punch from Izeah Peterson (20.1) and Kade Glover (17.9). The senior duo also combines for 12 rebounds and five assists each game.
Sargent also meets Center this week and their Friday matchup is the first game action of 2019 for the Farmers. With wins in three of their final four games before Christmas, they have good momentum entering conference play. Their latest effort was a solid 58-45 win over Mancos on December 15th.
A non-conference game of note was played on Tuesday as Byers edged Simla 53-51. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 going with the seventh ranked Bulldogs surviving a late charge from the 9th ranked Cubs. Each club has more than enough talent and depth to gain a spot in the final eight.
Byers begins the trek through the Union Pacific on Friday against Genoa Hugo. The next night, they have a rematch with local 3A rival Strasburg. The Indians stunned the Bulldogs on a buzzer-beater in the opening week of the season. Byers has not lost since as the win over Simla was their sixth in a row.
The Bulldogs and Limon should duke it out for the Union Pacific championship on February 8th. The Badgers look to bounce back from the tough loss to Denver Christian as they open league activity against Flagler/Hi Plains on Friday. They also face Holyoke on Saturday.
Simla dropped their second straight contest and third in the last four. Other losses are to Yuma and Merino. Up next are conference games with Calhan and Dolores Huerta Prep on Friday and Saturday. Record wise, Dolores Huerta (7-1) may be considered the favorite but they’ve not played the same level of schedule as Simla. They did collect a nice win over Swallows Charter (50-47) in their final December contest as Charles Winston dropped in 24 points. He’s second overall in scoring (14.3) and rebounding (9.4).