For Paonia High School, the second season for girls' basketball is underway with some positive results so far.
The Eagles, ranked second by MaxPreps, won last weekend's 2A District 5 tournament hosted in De Beque. Paonia began the week with a Tuesday contest against Hayden, which advanced with a play-in game against Hotchkiss, 50-20, on Monday.
Paonia moved on to De Beque for the semifinal and final rounds of play on Friday and Saturday. The Eagles faced Vail Christian, 8-2 and 16-6, on Friday and used a strong fourth quarter to score a 52-29 decision. In the title game against Cedaredge on Saturday the Eagles were methodical in a 45-33 win.
Paonia 60, Hayden 13
Paonia was all business against the 6-13 Tigers. A 22-point first quarter was more than enough to secure the win for Paonia, especially with its defense limiting Hayden to just three points in the quarter.
By the end of the first half Paonia found itself comfortably ahead, 36-9.
Things went from bad to worse in the third quarter when Paonia's defense held the Tigers scoreless while its offense scored 17 points.
Junior Sophia Anderson was the leading scorer for Paonia with 17 points and Ashley Van Vleet contributed another 13. Mckenna Hartigan and Ashley Van Vleet had four offensive rebounds each in the contest for the Eagles.
Paonia 52, VC 29
Vail Christian, 16-6, kept Paonia on its heels for much of the first three quarters of play. Paonia came out sluggish and missed a number of easy shots and turned the ball over too much to suit Paonia coach Scott Rienks.
Both teams showed signs of nerves as play continued into the second quarter. The Eagles owned a two-point lead after one period and led 22-21 at halftime. Mc-kenna Hartigan sparked the Eagles' offense with six of her teams' 11 points in the second frame.
Paonia got six points from Emily Pieper in the third quarter, helping the Eagles outscore Vail Christian 11-8 in the period.
The Saints' execution faltered in the fourth quarter. Paonia took advantage of the letdown and stepped up its defensive effort and turned the offense loose to go on a devastating 19-8 run. Anderson and Ashley Van Vleet scored five points each in the big run for Paonia.
Anderson was the game's leading scorer with 14 points. Teammates Pieper and Ashley Van Vleet added 10 points each in the win. Hartigan finished with eight counters.
Vail Christian's Jessie Raitt kept the Saints close with seven points in the second quarter and another six in the third frame to finish with 13 points.
Paonia 45, Bruins 33
The buildup of yet another game between Paonia and Cedaredge started well. Hannah Gilmore hit a 3-point goal from the top of the key to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead. Shortly afterward, Kendall McHugh added another 3-pointer, making the score 6-2.
From there, Paonia began concentrating on working the ball inside. Gilmore picked up her second foul at the 3:38 mark and Ryan Hilbig made changes to protect the junior center.
Cedaredge was leading 9-7 when a time out was called with 3:33 left in the first period. At 2:57 Pieper's two free throws tied the game at 9-9.
The Eagles employed a platoon-type tactic to offset the play of senior Nellie Freeman. Pieper and Brianna Van Vleet took turns guarding Freeman the entire game. For the most part, the tactic worked.
Freeman, who averages 16 points per game this season, was held to just 11 points for the game.
When asked about the pressure tactic against Freeman, Paonia coach Scott Rienks explained why there was so much pressure. "We gave her (Freeman) too much space in the last game we played. We wanted to cut the distance between defender and her down so she was limited in what she could do."
Paonia took advantage of early miscues by the Bruins and eased its way to a 16-11 lead to end first-quarter play. Paonia's Anderson was smooth and calm in the first quarter of play. She hit a pair of driving layups and went three-for-five at the line to score seven of Paonia's 16 points in the period.
Freeman was her usual driving and aggressive self but could not convert on free throws when needed. She shot six free throws in the first quarter and made three. In the second quarter she hit just one of three to finish the game four of nine at the line.
The Eagles went on a 13-point run in the second quarter which gave Paonia a 29-15 halftime lead. Ashley Van Vleet had four of the 13 points scored by Paonia.
An 18-16 second half shaved two points off Paonia's lead but there just wasn't enough time to offset the first-half deficit created by the Eagles.
Freeman scored her last five points of the game in the third period with nothing gained by the Bruins as each team scored nine points.
Both teams, playing exhausted, found it difficult to change the flow of the game in the fourth quarter.
Paonia claimed the top seed in District 5 with its 45-33 victory. The Eagles are scheduled to play in Rifle as the number one seed when Region 3 Pool 1 play begins on Friday.
Cedaredge (2 seed) is scheduled to play number seven seed Clear Creek (18-4) at 3 p.m. in Rifle. Paonia is also slated to play in Rifle against eighth seed Lyons (15-7) at 6 p.m.
Region 3 Pool 2 will feature games at Coal Ridge High School in New Castle. Fourth seed Soroco (19-3) plays fifth seeded Highland (15-7) at 3 p.m. in girls' action. The 6 p.m. game will be between third-seed Union Colony Prep (17-4) and sixth-seed Vail Christian (16-6).
The winners of Pool 1 and 2 will meet in Rifle on Mar. 5 at 2 p.m. Both teams advance to this year's 2A state tournament held at CSU-Massari Gymnasium in Pueblo Mar. 10-12.