Hayden boys lead the way as county hoops teams play for state | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden boys lead the way as county hoops teams play for state

The Hayden High School boys basketball team celebrates its district championship win against Meeker on Saturday in Rangely.

— They watched the tape Monday, and they smiled and laughed. They soaked it in one more time.

The Hayden High School boys basketball relived its biggest win of the season — its biggest win of the past several seasons — which came Saturday against what had been considered the state's No. 1 team, undefeated Meeker. The win secured Hayden the district championship.

"Then," Tigers coach Mike Luppes said, "we said, 'Meeker's over. Time to move on.'"

Neither the players nor their fans likely will forget that 63-58 victory any time soon, but Luppes said that achievement will be little more than a footnote to the season if the team can't realize its next goal. Knocking off Meeker earned Hayden the No. 1 seed in this weekend's regional tournament, where Friday and potentially Saturday the Tigers will play for the chance to advance to the state basketball tournament.

The Hayden girls team earned the same right, entering its Grand Junction-based regional tournament as a No. 3 seed and scheduled to play Hoehne, as did the Soroco boys, a No. 4 against Lutheran-Parker in Broomfield.

"With these seniors, the goal has always been to make the state tournament," Luppes said about the Hayden boys.

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Hayden must win its four-team bracket to advance. It became the No. 1 seed in its region by winning the district. The Tigers face a first-round matchup at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mesa State College in Grand Junction against Longmont Christian.

Once the Meeker tape was turned off, the focus turned to the Warriors.

Longmont Christian enters the game 13-10. The squad won five of its final six regular season games to finish sixth in the Mile High Conference but failed to compete last weekend in its district tournament. The Warriors lost both games on the weekend and did so by an average of 32.5 points.

Still, Luppes and his boys claim to be plenty wary.

The Warriors are led by senior Wes Bennett, who last earned mention in Routt County by rushing for nearly 400 yards against the Soroco football team in the fall.

"He's an excellent basketball player, too," Luppes said. "He's by far their leading scorer, and he's the key to their success. They're an athletic team and do a good job defensively. They can be very patient on offense, can work to get the good shot, and they're going to be a real challenge."

A loss Friday night would end Hayden's season, but a win would set it in the regional championship game, one win away from the state tournament in Pueblo. That game would be against either familiar foe Paonia, which Hayden beat, 69-57, early last month, or against John Mall High School, a 13-9 squad from Walsenburg.

"The pressure we have on ourselves is to make sure we come ready to play every game," Luppes said. "We still haven't achieved our goal. That was to make the state tournament, and this weekend is the key to that."

Hayden Tigers girls team looks for weekend wins

It might have made sense for the Hayden girls basketball team to tank its final game in the district tournament.

If the squad had finished fourth, it would have avoided Paonia, a rival that has managed to smash the highest of Hayden dreams for the past two seasons.

"We had a meeting, and we talked about that game," Hayden coach Eric Hamilton said about the district consolation game showdown against Meeker. "But we decided as a team there was no way we wanted to go out and let Meeker beat us."

So, Hayden won and enters this weekend's four-team regional tournament as the No. 3 seed. The first game will be at 3 p.m. Friday at Grand Junction's Mesa State College against Hoehne. If Hayden wins, it likely will face Paonia again, this time playing for a trip to the state tournament.

"We decided if we had to face Paonia again, that was what was ahead of us. We have to beat them to earn our trip to state," Hamilton said. "First, this team we have Friday, they're going to be very tough, too.

"We have to peak right now. Now is the time."

Soroco High School boys team looks for an upset

Even a quick glance at Soroco High School's final practice of the week, Wednesday in Oak Creek, revealed the team's main concerns as it prepares for a 5 p.m. Friday game against Lutheran-Parker, the No. 1-seeded team in its region.

"They have one of the better post players I've seen in a long time," Rams coach Sam McLeod said, "but that's not what concerns us most. What concerns us most is their guards."

And more specifically the excruciating full-court pressure defense those guards can bring to bear. Time after time, the Rams ran through their press-break plays Wednesday, knowing that if they have a chance, it will take near-perfect execution.

McLeod said some things might work to his team's favor.

"They play a hard-nosed man-to-man," he said. "We've seen some people try to play man against us, but they usually pull out of it pretty quickly because we execute well against that. Still, these guys play a little tougher defense than most people we've seen.

"We set a goal to go to the regional tournament and see what happens. And we're there. We've given ourselves the opportunity."

If you go

What: Class 2A regional basketball tournament

When: Hayden girls at 3 p.m. against Hoehne, Hayden boys at 7:30 p.m. against Longmont Christian, Soroco boys at 5 p.m. against Lutheran-Parker. All games are Friday.

Where: Both Hayden teams play at Mesa State College in Grand Junction. Soroco plays at Standley Lake High School in Broomfield

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