Hayden High School's Murphy Smartt tries to grab a rebound last week as the team lost at home to Meeker. Hayden went on to win Saturday against Vail Christian and will attempt to build on that momentum tonight as they travel to Soroco. The Tigers beat the Rams, 63-54, in December.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden High School's Murphy Smartt tries to grab a rebound last week as the team lost at home to Meeker. Hayden went on to win Saturday against Vail Christian and will attempt to build on that momentum tonight as they travel to Soroco. The Tigers beat the Rams, 63-54, in December.

Soroco, Hayden basketball teams meet tonight for second time this season

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Hayden girls basketball, 2008-09

Soroco boys basketball, 2008-09

Hayden boys basketball, 2008-09

There are major reasons the Soroco and Hayden high school boys basketball teams are labeling today's 7:30 p.m. showdown in Oak Creek as one of the most important games of the year.

The duel could have huge playoff implications for both Routt County squads, the loser potentially falling from a lofty No. 3 seed and the accompanying home playoff game to an ugly No. 5 slot and an unwanted district road trip.

That's far from the only thing motivating the opponents, however.

"No one is going to have any problems getting Hayden or Soroco kids excited to play basketball this week," Soroco coach Sam McLeod said. "This is a big game."

The Rams will be seeking revenge as they welcome the Tigers. Hayden upset a then-undefeated Soroco squad in December.

Hayden took control of that game in the first half by causing a flurry of turnovers and racking up a lead that stretched as wide as 20 by blowing past Soroco with an effective transition game.

It was exactly the kind of style the Rams have used to build a 12-3 record this season. Still, for one night they couldn't handle their own medicine.

"The entire game comes down to ball control," McLeod said. "Last time, we were sloppy in transition and we let them control the tempo of the game. We have to do a whole lot better job with that this time."

Hayden, meanwhile, could be comfortable no matter the style. A powerful, experienced pair of forwards gives the Tigers a chance to play well in half-court sets. Junior Murphy Smartt led his team with 26 points, and senior Zach Barnes added 15 in the previous meeting.

"We need to play good defense and clear the boards," Hayden coach Mike Luppes said. "Soroco likes to push the ball, but if we play good defense again against them and rebound well, we can slow that down."

Tigers girls to avoid upset

Soroco girls basketball coach David Bruner said there's one psychological element his team can count on as it heads into the 6 p.m. game today against Hayden.

"When they beat (us) by 30 points the first time, it's probably tough to get their kids not to overlook us," Bruner said.

The No. 4-ranked Tigers beat Soroco, 73-42, in December.

The Rams have played better basketball since that game, a disastrous affair in which they turned the ball over 42 times in the face of Hayden's stifling full-court press.

In fact, their 64-41 loss to Paonia last weekend was enough to catch Hayden coach Eric Hamilton's eye.

Paonia accounts for Hayden's only loss this season, and it didn't go unnoticed that Soroco senior Sarajane Rossi hung 25 points on the league leaders.

"She's a great player and has a lot of offensive skills," Hamilton said about Rossi. "They're really putting some points on the board and have improved a great deal over the season."

Hayden senior Caitlin Mahanna likely will be assigned to guarding Rossi.

"She's the best defender in the league, and her job will be shutting Sarajane down," Hamilton said.

The key for Soroco will be surviving that defense.

"We have to break the press and not turn the ball over," Bruner said. "If we do that, we'll be all right."

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