Hayden Boys 58, Paonia 56
Paonia 18-8-16-14 — 56
Hayden 19-9-11-19 — 58
Paonia — Blaine Escher 3 0-0 6, Adrian Penny 10 2-2 28, Trevor Walters 2 0-1 5, Kacey Kropp 6 1-2 13, John Devlin 1 0-0 2, Daniel Ford 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 3-4 56.
Hayden — Hunter Johnson 1 0-1 2, Graig Medvesk 12 2-4 26, Ben Williams 3 0-0 6, Brandon Ray 0 2-4 2, Jorge Valdez 2 2-7 6, Mark Doolin 7 2-4 16. Totals 25 8-20 58.
3-pointers: Paonia (7) — Penny 6, Walters.
Hayden Graig Medvesk waited until the game was over and his Hayden Tigers were celebrating their second consecutive district championship to pass.
His teammates gathered underneath one of baskets at the Hayden High School gymnasium Saturday, ladder at the ready and scissors in hand. They pointed to their senior star and urged him to go up and take the first cut of the net. He deferred, however, and in the end was the last up to cut the string and memorialize the 58-56 win against Paonia.
It was a move befitting a senior leader, but one hardly a sign of the game. Medvesk didn’t pass when it mattered the most, blasting through the Eagles defense for a layup with 4.5 seconds remaining to put his team on top.
“I was thinking, ‘This is the last time I’ll ever play in this gym,’” Medvesk said. “I wanted to win more than anybody.”
The win locked up the District 5 title and locked in the Tigers for a No. 1 seed
in next weekend’s regional playoff. Hayden will travel Friday to Grand Junction to play Del Norte, the No. 5 team from District 1.
Hayden battled back from a 6-point fourth-quarter deficit Saturday, sophomore Jorge Valdez pulling the Tigers even with a free throw with 46 seconds remaining.
Paonia, trying to hold on for the final shot, turned the ball over, and Medvesk took over.
“Coach (Mike) Luppes told everyone to get me the ball,” said the senior, who finished with a team-high 26 points. “Ben (Williams) set a screen for me at half court, and I got a step on my defender and took it to the hole.”
Hayden sophomore Mark Doolin was equally instrumental in the final frame, adding 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Were it not for a performance from Paonia’s Adrian Penny that was every bit on par with those of Medvesk and Doolin, Hayden wouldn’t have needed the late-game heroics.
Penny helped the Eagles shoot out of the gate, nailing four 3-pointers in the first quarter alone. Hayden quickly ditched a zone defense, but even pressure man-to-man did little to stop the deadly accurate guard.
Penny went on to finish with 28 points and six 3-point shots.
He scored 7 in the fourth quarter and helped his team to its biggest lead, 56-50.
“He was so hot he was just blistering. We tried everything to stop him,” Luppes said. “At the end, we were getting good shots, but we hadn’t been converting them. When it got to the last minute, we executed the things we needed to, and the kids really gutted it out.”
Now, the Tigers are just two wins away from back-to-back trips to the state tournament in Pueblo.
Del Norte entered the district tournament 10-9, then won three of four games to advance to place fifth.
That will be the focus of this week, however. Saturday was about the sweetest win of the season.
“I’m just glad we’re going to Junction,” Luppes said.
— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com