Steamboat Springs Undefeated at home this season, the Steamboat Sailors will hoop it up against the Ralston Valley Mustangs at a regional-playoff game tonight at the high school gymnasium.
The Sailors, who are 10-0 on their own floor, will tip off at 7 p.m. against the Mustangs, who have a 6-4 home record.
It is a do-or-die situation for the Sailors.
A loss would end their hopes of qualifying for the state playoffs while also putting an end to an impressive 19-3 season.
A win, however, would advance them to the second-round of the regional playoffs, where they would face the winner of the Pueblo Central versus Liberty High School game.
If they win against the Mustangs, the Sailors will play again Saturday against one of those two teams.
If Liberty wins, Steamboat will play its opponent at home, but if Pueblo Central prevails, the team will have to travel to Pueblo.
If the Sailors win both games in regionals, they will test their mettle against the state's best, starting March 8 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Thirty-two teams entered the regional tourney, including Montrose, a 2-20 Cinderella team out of the Southwestern League.
Montrose downed Glenwood Springs in the first round of the district seven playoffs to advance to the regionals.
Glenwood also qualified for regionals by winning its next two district games.
Those teams from the Western Slope that made the regional playoffs are Steamboat, Rifle and Glenwood.
Montezuma-Cortez and Montrose, which are from the Southwestern League, also qualified for regionals after placing in the top five at the district seven tourney.
Cortez won the district seven championship by defeating Steamboat in the finals.
The Sailors may be unbeaten at home, but coach Kelly Meek says his team has been able to find success no matter where it has played this season.
"We've had a really fine home record, but we've had an excellent one on the road, too," Meek said.
The Sailors have nine "road kills" this season versus only three defeats. Two of those away wins came during the district playoffs against Battle Mountain and Montrose.
Meek says he will not rely on the home-court edge, though the local fans have been great to his team, he says. He labels the students who cheer for the Sailors as the "sixth-man crazies."
"I feel they're a real attachment because they're part of us," Meek said.
Meek says there are a number of other loyal fans who have shown tremendous support for the program the past 26 years he has coached for Steamboat.
"There are a number of old-timers that consistently follow us," Meek said. "And there are always ex-players showing up from out of town.
"We have quite a reputation here for people coming in to (our gym). They know it's a difficult place to play."
Since the Sailors have taken to a different gymnasium two years ago, the team has posted a 16-2 home record.
The newer gymnasium, which houses at least 2000 people according to high school principal David Schmid, is where the red and white banners hang that showcase the numerous championships the Sailors have compiled throughout the years.
Those banners display 12 regional championships, 11 district championships and 16 league championships.
The team's only losses on the new court came against Harrison High School and Rifle last season.
Steamboat was defeated by Rifle in a home district-playoff game. Ryan Scheer, a 6-foot-3 post player, says
he enjoys playing in front of the hometown crowd, though he is confident his team can go anywhere and pick up a win.
Tonight, Scheer says, the fans are sure to be fired up for the playoff match.
"The fans will be rowdier because it could be our last home game," Scheer said. "I think we could have a slight advantage."
Hunter Maddox, who is a senior, says the Sailors will have to play with more enthusiasm against Ralston Valley than it did during the regular season and district games.
"We just need to come out with a better intensity level," Maddox said. "It's not that hard to get focused for this, it's such a big game."
To reach Eric Rineer call 871-4229 or e-mail email@example.com