Soroco, Hayden set for matchup in Meeker

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— Soroco coach Jake Eskridge said he’s hoping his team will maintain focus and keep its eye on the agreed upon goal, which in the early season Cowboy Shoot-Out basketball tournament in Meeker is nothing more than “improving every night.”

The Rams did that on Friday, he said, bouncing back from an overtime loss Thursday to beat Moffat County’s junior varsity squad, 54-32.

Keeping that most simple of goals in mind for today’s final game in the tournament will be a different animal, however.

With Hayden’s 48-30 Friday night win against Grand Junction’s Caprock Academy in the same tournament, the Rams and the Tigers are set to square off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in Meeker.

“It won’t be different than any other Hayden and Soroco basketball game,” Eskridge said. “It will be good basketball and a fun rivalry game.”

Here’s the thing, though: it’s very likely to be different, at least so the Rams hope. Hayden has dominated the boys basketball intra-country rivalry in recent seasons. Year in and year out, Hayden has crushed the dreams of Soroco squads set on turning things around.

This week, however, the Tigers are playing with just eight suited-up players, including an astonishing five freshman. A thorough demolition of the team because of injuries is to blame. Those Hayden players on the court are growing fast, according to coach Mike Luppes, but have they grown fast enough to handle a senior-laden Soroco team that’s playing pretty solid basketball right now? Stay tuned.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for us, without question,” Luppes said.

The game will certainly revolve to some degree around how each team’s tent-post player handles the challenge. For the Rams, that’s been Ryan Jeep. He scored 13 points Friday to lead Soroco, good enough but not half of the average of 27 points he poured in during the season’s first two games.

“I don’t know that we can contain him, but hopefully, we can get some other people shooting for them,” Luppes said.

Hayden, too, has gotten the bulk of its points from one place — senior guard Dan Engle, the only healthy Tiger who saw extensive varsity minutes last year. He scored 27 points and had 19 rebounds Friday, a day after he tallied 26 of Hayden’s 32 points in a 66-32 loss to Fruita-Monument’s junior varsity team.

How much help each player gets from his teammates could decide whether or not Saturday is the day a long streak ends. Jeep will look to Bjorn Carlson, who scored 12 points Friday, and Eric Logan, who tallied 10.

Engle will look to the team’s other two upperclassmen, Jack Redmond, 11 points and 11 boards Friday, and Thomas Rauch, eight points and six rebounds.

“The last few years, it hasn’t been a good game,” Eskridge said. “They’ve been way more talented. But, we’re just starting to turn that corner as a program, so we’ll find out tomorrow if we can beat them. The big thing, though, is taking that next step.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9

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