In what head coach Chase Roeber called "a really big week," the Paonia Eagles bumped their conference record to 6-1 on wins over Vail Christian Friday and De Beque Saturday.
In Friday's 80-67 win at Vail Christian, senior Enoch Kropp scored a game- and season-high 39 points. Kropp scored 18 from the three-point line and shot 12-of-13 from the free throw line.
"It was a really great game for him," said Roeber. "We did a few things in trying to get him a couple of extra looks, just because he was so hot. And he pulled through. He played well."
The whole team played well, said Roeber. Paonia led, 13-9, at the end of the first quarter. The Saints pulled out all the stops in the second quarter, shooting five three-pointers and scoring 28 points to lead, 37-28, at the half.
Of their 52 second-half points, senior Sean Devlin scored 12 to end the game with 14 points. Kropp was unstoppable in the second half, sinking three treys and shooting 10-of-11 from the line. "He was unconscious there for a little while," said Roeber. "If he had the ball in his hands he was going to score."
Point guard Slater Podgorny scored 14 points against Vail, and Riley Simianer, David Lozano, Elan Maulhardt and Caden Meilner combined for 14 points.
In Saturday's 73-53 home conference win over De Beque, Devlin scored a game-high 23 points and shot four of four from the line. Devlin set the tone for the Eagles early in the game, scoring three consecutive three-point goals and 11 points in the first quarter.
"We clicked pretty well today," said Roeber. Kropp scored 18, and Meilner came off the bench in the third to shoot two three-pointers.
In the fourth quarter, Kyle Long, Landon Thliveris and Elijah Evans came off the bench to score a combined seven points and shoot five of six from the line.
The Dragons (9-3, 4-3, 1A WSL) are a young team and have been up and down this season, said Roeber. Two starting freshmen, Wes Ryan and Brennan Rigsby, are the team's top scorers. Ryan averages 15 ppg and scored 16 against Paonia, and Rigsby scored 13.
In looking at how to contain Rigsby, the Dragons' lead scorer who averages 21 points per game, "We just try to limit help on a guy like that and just control him," said Roeber. "Sean Devlin guarded him, and did a great job," he said. "But we know we're not going to shut a guy like that down."
With Vail Christian at 10-3 for the season and De Beque at 9-3, Roeber called the wins "significant" for the Eagles, who are now 9-5 overall and in sixth place in the 13-team 2A/1A Western Slope conference standings.
On Jan. 23, Paonia played to a 74-37 non-conference loss at Grand Valley (11-1, 2-1, 3A WSL). While the Grand Valley game doesn't count toward their league record, "We knew it was going to be a big game and a tough game," said Roeber.
In the win over Vail Christian, Roeber described the gym at Edwards as "a tough place to play. Their student section is always pretty ramped up for games. To bounce back, physically and emotionally, following the Grand Valley loss and get the win in front of a tough Edwards crowd shows how the team is making improvements. The Eagles are really coming together as a team," said Roeber, and that's elevating each member's level of play. The bench is also playing well.
With five games remaining before playoff season, Paonia is in fourth place in conference standings. They played at Vail Mountain (5-10, 3-5) Tuesday night and host North Park (6-7, 2-5) and West Grand (7-7, 4-3) Saturday.
Roeber noted that Vail Mountain (5-10, 3-5) lost by four points last week to 7-0 Rangely. That, and the fact that they're playing at Vail, could make it "a tight game and a tough one," said Roeber. "We also never overlook West Grand, or North Park, for that matter."