It doesn't feel like February outside, but it does feel like it inside.
It was unseasonably warm Saturday, and the chase for 2A Western Slope playoff seeding heated up as the Hayden boys basketball team came out of Edwards with a 43-30 win against Vail Christian.
"Every game's important," Hayden coach Mike Luppes said. "Coach (Dave) Marin and I talked before the game that there are four of us playing in the middle of the pack for those last two home spots in districts. Those are important to us. We know we have two games left - this one and Soroco."
Hayden (10-6 overall and 5-3 in league play) plays Friday night at Soroco. The Saints (8-8, 4-4) visit those same Rams the next day in the league finals for both teams. With Saturday's win, the Tigers got the leg up on the battle for fourth place, and a home game in the first round of districts, while the Saints most likely will be on the road.
The drama on the court started with off-court drama, as Vail Christian got word that starting point guard Will Parker had broken his nose in Friday night's game against Plateau Valley. Parker was unable to play in the game, which turned out to be a crucial blow.
"We just couldn't get any offensive flow, period," Saints coach Sheldon Kuhns said. "We couldn't. We played hard, and foul trouble hurt us a bit. Despite all that, we still had some shots. We couldn't make shots tonight. The guys played hard. Elliot (Ristow), bless his heart, he's playing his heart out. He can't do everything he wants to do (because of an injury). It really hurt our transition game."
While Vail Christian was tinkering with the point-guard position, trying Ristow, freshman Fernando Hernandez and A.J. Burgess, Hayden held the Saints to a season-low 14 points in the first half.
Up 17-14 at the break, the Tigers extended their lead behind the sharp shooting of sophomore Graig Medvesk who had six of his nine points in the third quarter.
Down 33-21 in the fourth, the Saints made a bit of a run with two layups from Larry Cavanaugh, one from Ristow and another from Chris Schmidt (who had a game-high 15 points) to close to within 36-30 with 3:14 left in the game.
But Hayden restored order thanks to a bucket from Zach Barnes, playing with four fouls at the time and a field goal from Murphy Smartt,
"We came out and played a much better second half," Luppes said. "The first half was not pretty. The second half was an improvement. It wasn't great, but it was an improvement. We were able to put some points on the board."
Girls team on a roll
There is a week left in the regular season, but the Hayden girls basketball team has its collective eye squarely on districts.
The Tigers (16-1 overall and 6-1 in the 2A Slope) rolled past Vail Christian, 59-22, on Saturday in Edwards. Soroco and North Park finish out the slate next weekend, and then it's off to districts, and hopefully another shot at Paonia, which has handed the Tigers their only loss of the season.
"We're still, against really good teams like Hayden, struggling to handle the ball in the backcourt," Vail Christian coach Doug Bruce said.
The Saints tried to slow down the tempo and spread the floor against Hayden. The Tigers responded with the press, which overwhelmed Vail Christian
"When somebody tries to slow it down, we really try to let the defense take care of that and speed things up for us," Hayden coach Eric Hamilton said. "We put pressure all over them and try to take them out of that slow-down game."
Hayden outscored Vail Christian, 9-0, in the first quarter and was up 31-10 at the half.
Tigers senior Holli Salazar came as advertised with 20 points. Teammates Kylee Sweetser (nine) and Caitlin Mahanna and Kyra Rolando (seven each) provided balanced offense.