Tigers basketball confident against tough field at state

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If you go

What: Class 2A state basketball tournament, Hayden vs. Holyoke

When: 1:15 p.m. today

Where: Massari Fieldhouse, Colorado State University-Pueblo

— It seems like forever ago now, but it was only last summer.

Hayden boys basketball coach Mike Luppes and his counterpart at Holyoke High School, John Baumgartner, shook hands. Their teams shared rooms next door to each other at a team camp during the summer in Ever­­green, and when it was over, Luppes and Baum­gar­t­ner came to an agreement.

“We said if we needed any help, we’d help each other out,” Baum­gartner said. “We said if they were playing someone from the plains, he’d call me, and if we had someone from the Western Slope, I’d call him.”

Now here they are, Hayden squaring off against a perennial Class 2A power from the state’s eastern plains and Holyoke set to face a strong contender from the Western Slope. Only it’s doubtful the coaches followed through on their promise. Neither was eager to give anything away before their two teams matched up at 1:15 p.m. today in the first round of the Class 2A state basketball tournament in Pueblo.

“We’re ready to go. We’re pumped,” Luppes said. “We’re going down there to win some basketball games. The kids believe it. They know we can compete with anyone.”

In Holyoke, 22-2 and the tournament’s No. 2 seed, Hayden couldn’t find an opponent more different from itself.

The Dragons have become a well-established basketball program that’s made trips to the state tournament the norm rather than the exception.

The team has been to state seven of the past eight years, a run capped by a second-place finish in last year’s tournament.

Hayden is making its first trip since 1982.

Holyoke has been great this year, losing just twice and by no more than 4 points either time. The team has won 10 straight and blew apart its regional competition with the lock-down defense that’s defined its dominating run during the past decade.

After giving up what Baum­gartner said is a Colorado state record low 34.2 points per game last season, Holyoke has surrendered an average of just 36.8 points this season.

“I guess I’m a defensive-minded coach,” Baumgartner said. “We play man-to-man, and we’ll press. We’ll trap. We make it difficult. We have kids that really believe in that style, and they play hard.”

Holyoke paired that defensive mind-set with a patient offensive approach a year ago, winning one big game, 28-14. This year, though, Baumgartner said the Dragons are much better on offense, and although they still like to take their time, they’re capable of much higher scores.

Hayden’s plenty aware.

“They’re a different kind of team than we’ve played all year,” senior Murphy Smartt said. “We’re going to press them to try and speed up their game. They really like to slow it down, so we want to speed it up. We want to play our games instead of theirs.”

Smartt could play a key role in Hayden’s fortunes. The forward tweaked his knee Saturday in the waning moments of his team’s regional championship but said he’s going to play today.

The Tigers should have an advantage in the paint, so anything Smartt can contribute will be important.

“My knee would have to be broken in half to not play this game,” Smartt said.

Hayden, 19-5, enters the eight-team tournament as the No. 7 seed. That doesn’t have the Tigers crying “disrespect,” however.

It also doesn’t mean they’re willing to accept a first-round loss.

They aren’t just happy to be there.

“We are all talking about keeping our heads in the game,” senior Dylan Sather said. “We’re going down there for the win.

“I bet we will all be nervous, but once we run down the court, we’ll break the ice and just go from there. We are really pumped and ready to go.”

Hayden is guaranteed two games in the tournament. If it wins today, it will play either No. 3 Lutheran Parker or No. 6 Sanford in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Friday. With a loss, the best the Tigers could finish is fifth, and if they lose twice in a row, they’re out. They will play the loser of the Lutheran Parker-Sanford game at 10:45 a.m. Friday if they lose to Holyoke.

2A state basketball tournament teams

No.1 Ignacio

Record: 21-2

Top players: Alex Herrera, a 6-foot-8 forward committed to play for Fort Lewis College, recorded 18 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks in the regional championship against Alexander Dawson.

At a glance: The Bobcats are a top seed for good reason. Ignacio’s two losses on the season came in a preseason tournament. The team lost to Montwood, Texas, and Farmington, N.M. The team’s closest game outside of the preseason losses was a 61-55 win against Pagosa Springs on Jan. 12. No team has come within 17 points of them since then. They’re outscoring opponents 76-41 on average. They’ve also had scoring bursts of 128, 111 and 144 points this season.

■ No. 2 Holyoke

Record: 21-2

Top players: Senior point guard Ryan Baumgartner has started every game of his high school career, and that means three trips now to the state tournament. The coach’s son averages 8 points a game, seven assists and five steals. Kyle Carper, a 6-foot-3 senior, averages 15 points a game and nine rebounds and has enough “ups” that there’s a YouTube highlight video of his best dunks.

At a glance: Holyoke had the ball and was down 1 point inside the final minute of last year’s state championship game. It went on to lose 42-39 to The Colorado Springs School, but is intent on earning the title this year. The Dragons have plenty of experience playing in the spotlight, having played at state seven of the past eight years. They play a measured, calculated offensive game but typically tear their opponents apart with a grueling defense.

■ No. 3 Lutheran Parker

Record: 20-4

Top players: Andrew Bowers, a 6-foot-7 junior, averages 12.8 points a game and 7.5 rebounds. Sophomore guard Johnny Foote scored 16 in the regional championship game.

At a glance: Lutheran Parker closed the season strong, winning 11 straight, including a first-round regional game against Soroco. The Lions beat the Rams with aggressive defensive pressure and a lineup in which all starters are at least 6-foot-4. The team has allowed more than 40 points in a game just twice in the past 14 and won its regional title game against Wray, 42-23. The team finished sixth at state a year ago.

■ No. 4 Limon

Record: 21-3

Top players: Matt Brown (19.2 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 2.5 spg and 1 bpg), Jerome King (9.7 ppg) and Trent Dohe (7.8 ppg and 7 rpg)

At a glance: After dropping its first two games, Limon has won 21 of its past 22. The Badgers have outscored their opponents an average of 62-44. Limon, however, hasn’t played any of the remaining teams. Brown has been as consistent as they come, scoring in double figures in every game this season. His lowest point output this season was 10 in an 80-31 blowout of Merino.

■ No. 5 Sargent

Record: 20-2

Top players: Junior Carlos Hernandez scored 12 points in the team’s regional championship victory. Dion Oakes and Morgan Biel each had 10 in that game.

Hernandez also had 19 in the team’s district championship victory.

At a glance: Outside one two-game stretch, Sargent has been unbeatable this season. The Farmers opened the season with 11 consecutive wins before dropping back-to-back games in league play, one to Antonito and one to Sanford. They had already beaten Antonito and beat Sanford (the state tournament’s No. 6 seed) in the district championship game.

 ■ No. 6 Sanford

Record: 18-4

Top players: Not available

At a glance: Sanford overcame a loss in its district championship game to win its regional and advance to state after qualifying for but failing to place in the state tournament a year ago. The team placed at state in each of the three years before that. The team hasn’t dominated its competition, but has lost only three times. It was at its best in a 49-43 win against Sargent in January.

■ No. 7 Hayden

Record: 19-5

Top players: Junior guard Graig Medvesk and senior forward Murphy Smartt were the team’s two leading returning players, both having earned all-league honors the season before. Hayden’s strength has proven to be its depth as much as its top two players, however, and senior forwards Rene Valdez and Raul Valdez and junior guard Ben Williams have all come through at different points during the season.

At a glance: Hayden was good all season but didn’t start playing great until late. Its best win came in the district championship as it knocked off previously undefeated Meeker. Then, in its two-game regional tournament, the Tigers had little trouble, stomping both of their opponents to earn their first state tournament appearance in nearly 30 years.

■ No. 8 Wiggins

Record: 14-10

Top players: Rolando Celis (10.6 ppg), Junior Neon (13 ppg), Taylor Risner (9 ppg)

At a glance: After losing to Wray in the first round of the District 2 tournament, Wiggins has won an impressive three straight against Union Colony Prep, Evangelical Christian and Custer County. Wiggins has played just one of the final eight teams — Hayden’s first-round opponent Holyoke — and lost both times. The Tigers are a balanced team, with six players averaging more than 8 points per game.

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