PARKER – Since the end of last season, when a loss in the Class 5A boys basketball Sweet 16 ended their tournament run, the Ponderosa Mustangs have been focused in their goal of reaching the Denver Coliseum.

And that focus was on full display on Saturday.

The Mustangs rode a hot shooting start, determined to avoid the slow start they saw on Wednesday in a close win over Thompson Valley, and rolled to a 77-57 win over Montrose.

A ticket to the Coliseum has been punched. Forcefully.

“Watching film [on Montrose], we had a game plan to just get going,” coach Max Schuman said. “Both offensively and defensively, we wanted to speed up the game. They’re really disciplined offensively and we didn’t want them to get setup into that.”

Knocking down five 3-pointers in the first quarter and scoring 30 points was a good way to do that. And just in case, the Mustangs mixed in some full-court pressure to further disrupt the offensive rhythm they didn’t want the Red Hawks getting into. By the second quarter, the lead had ballooned to enough that the Mustangs (17-8 overall) were able to back off and work primarily in the half-court.

“I think the players backed off the press themselves because they got a little tired,” Schuman said. “We were still able to do some things in the half-court to maintain some pressure.”

The scoring load helped with that as well. Riley Woolen and Carson Keach helped set the early tone offensively. Woolen scored 10 of his team-high 18 points in the first quarter.

Keach added seven in that span and finished the game with 16.

“With our size and athleticism, we’re shorter but we’re a lot faster and quicker than a lot of teams,” Keach said. “We like to pressure, get the ball out, get ahead and get some easy buckets.”

Seeing the easy buckets go in build confidence in a team that can shoot from anywhere on the floor. They struggled knocking down shots from the field in the win over Thompson Valley on Wednesday so getting going early was paramount to not suffering another disappointing loss before reaching the Great 8.

(Dan Mohrmann/

“Every spot that we have, one through five, we can take it to the rack and score whenever we want,” Keach said. “I feel confident about that. Our team chemistry is something different.”

This is group that has grown up together and played organized sports together since the second they stepped into middle school. Now they get to add another chapter to that bond with a trip to the Denver Coliseum. But they’re not going just to step foot on the floor. They have ambitions of winning.

And it’s an idea that they’re committed to.

“They’re locked in,” Schuman said. “The last two days of practice, they had a different level of focus. That first against Thompson Valley woke them up. They’re more locked in than I’ve seen them in two or three years.”

The Red Hawks (18-7) lost three seniors off their roster, but forward Kaleb Ferguson will return as a dominant post player, not just on the Western Slope, but all of Colorado.

He scored a game-high 28 points and was also Montrose’s most active player on the glass.

“He played great,” Montrose coach Ryan Voehringer said. “He had 28 points and nine boards. I’m not worried about him.”

With the win, Ponderosa will take on No. 2 Vista PEAK on Friday at the Coliseum. The Bison beat Discovery Canyon 58-34 to advance to the Great 8.

(Dan Mohrmann/