Cortez boys the favorites at districts

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— While Montezuma-Cortez stands strong as the district favorite coming into this weekend's boys basketball tournament, the placing of the teams that follow is as uncertain as a last-second shot from halfcourt.

The three-day tournament in Grand Junction should be one of the closest district tournaments in years after a league season that had the Western Slope Conference standings waver with five teams splitting games.

"Last year was very even. But this year, it's about as even as you can get," Sailors coach Kelly Meek said. "You're looking at seven of those clubs that have shots and that is not usually true."

Although Steamboat shares a 7-5 league record with Moffat County and Delta, the Sailors are seeded fourth in league standings because they are the only team to have split games with the higher-seeded Rifle Bears and Battle Mountain Huskies.

That means on Thursday, in the first round of tournament games, Steamboat will be facing Montrose, the district's fifth-seeded team that comes in from the Southwestern Conference.

Losing just two games, one to Steamboat and one to Delta, Rifle captured the tournament's No. 1 seed and will start the tournament off with a game against the losers of the pigtail matchup between Palisade and Glenwood Springs.

Battle Mountain, which lost to Steamboat in overtime, 50-49, and beat the team, 52-41, last weekend, is seeded just above Steamboat at third. Delta, a team that took Steamboat into double overtime almost two weeks ago, is seeded just below Montrose at sixth.

If the Sailors win their opening game at districts, they have a definite berth in the regional tournament. A win against Montrose also means they will advance into the semifinals and play two more games to determine first to fourth places.

If the Sailors lose to the Indians, they are bumped into the consolation bracket, where the four teams will do battle for the fifth and final place to go to regionals.

Depending on the outcomes of Thursday's games, the Sailors have the chance of meeting Rifle in Friday's round. In their first season game, the Sailors beat the Bears, 49-44, but then lost at home 48-35.

However, right now, Meek said his team is not focusing on Rifle or even Montezuma-Cor-

tez, one of the top-ranked teams in the state. The Indians are the main concern for the Sailors.

With a conference record of

2-8, Montrose stands in fifth place in the six-team Southwestern Conference, which pulls from four 5A schools and 4A schools Montezuma-Cortez and Mont-

rose.

Despite a loss to Battle Mountain, Meek said Steamboat had two of its best practices since winter break. The Sailors will be entering the tournament with their full arsenal, as injury-riddled Ryan Scheer and Jeff Aragon are expected to play.

"They're the best practices we have had since we came back from break," Meek said. "It's nice to have our top nine players all in practice."

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