Steamboat Springs It’s been a while since Hayden boys basketball has had to sweat advancing to the district tournament, but a rough season plagued by a slew of injuries to key starters has the Tigers in an unfamiliar spot this late in the year.
The past two years, Hayden won the 2A District 5 tournament and took third place.
The 2A format lends a hand to teams who have had a rough go during the regular season, giving every team a chance to win the state championship no matter what happened in the games leading up to the playoffs.
The 2A district tournament play-in games — known as pigtail games, Tigers coach Mike Luppes said — will be held Feb. 25.
The pigtail games will pit seven of 2A Western Slope League’s schools against one another, with the No. 1 seed, the eighth 2A school, earning a bye and automatic bid into the District 5 tournament, held at Soroco High School this year.
Hayden is likely to end up as that seventh seed in the pigtail games, spelling out the toughest road to the district tournament, and ultimately, the state playoffs.
But the core group of senior starters Luppes missed for the bulk of the season is showing signs of life down the stretch. It hasn’t translated into wins — yet. But it’s all about getting hot at the right time.
“The teams at the top, they handled us,” Luppes said about his team’s big losses against the likes of Paonia and Meeker. “We were just really getting started with our seniors playing and stuff. Our conditioning was poor, and that’s come a long way. You’ll never know what will happen.”
The three winners of the play-in games will meet with the No. 1 seed in Oak Creek on Feb. 28 and March 1 for the district championship.
“That’s the way I personally think it should be,” Luppes said. “Every team should have to get beat out” to advance to the state tournament.
Hayden girls could end up against rival Soroco
If the playoffs 2A girls postseason began today, we’d get a cross-county rivalry in the district tournament play-in game.
Like the boys side, 2A girls takes the Nos. 2 through 7 seeds from the Western Slope and pits them against one another, and sixth-ranked Hayden would draw Soroco in the Feb. 25 pigtail game.
But that is how it stands right now, and things could shake up during Hayden’s remaining regular-season game against Soroco on Feb. 21.
Right now, Meeker and Paonia are the district’s top contenders, ranking one and two, respectively, and fifth and sixth across Colorado’s 2A girls landscape. The two, however, square off Saturday afternoon, so a lot of switching around could happen before the district tournament even tips off at the end of the month.
The Tigers are ranked a few slots ahead of Rangely in seventh. It is unlikely, though, that Hayden will be able to make up 15 slots in the MaxPreps 2A rankings from No. 55 to catch No. 40 West Grand in the fifth spot.
The district tournament will be Feb. 28 and March 1 at Soroco High School.
Losses against top contenders hurting Soroco boys
Soroco’s 1-6 regular-season record against the five teams ahead of it in the current district tournament seedings has put the Rams in a tough spot.
Coach Jake Eskridge’s squad has battled an up-and-down season en route to an 9-8 record, but Soroco’s only four wins in league play have come against 1-14 Hayden, 1A’s North Park and De Beque, and No. 3 Rangely on Feb. 1.
As it stands right now, the Rams would draw Rangely in the pigtail game Feb. 25, but the Panthers are ranked only three spots behind No. 2 Hotchkiss and one position ahead of No. 5 Meeker, so a lot of shake-up could be on the horizon.
Rams girls have positioned themselves for a deep run
The Rams’ notable success down the back half of the regular season has landed them in a good position in district tournament terms with just two games remaining on the schedule.
Soroco has won seven of its past eight contests, with its only loss coming against district powerhouse Meeker, which also is Colorado’s fifth-ranked 2A squad, according to MaxPreps.
It is unlikely the Rams will make up the spots in the state rankings to catch either No. 1 Meeker or No. 2 Paonia by regular season’s end, but strong showings against 1A’s No. 19 Plateau Valley on Saturday and Hayden to close out the season would help.
The Rams are a win away from 14 victories on the season, which would match last year’s mark. They also are trying to avoid a theme from last year: an exit in the district tournament play-in game.
Soroco will host the 2A District 5 tournament in its own gym beginning Feb. 28.
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll