Paonia knew its first-round regional playoff game would be tough.
It was, after all, facing the No. 1 2A team in the state. It knew that undefeated Denver Christian had height, placed third at state in 2011, and that its top player averaged more than 20 points per game.
It knew its head coach, Dick Katte, had been with the team for 48 years and had created a highly successful program.
But playoffs are intended to eliminate the lower-ranked teams so that only the best advance to the state tournament, and the Crusaders were the better team.
Tracy Sturgis photo Paonia senior guard Zane Anderson is heavily guarded by Denver Christian’s Alex Terpstra in the opening game of the Region 4 playoffs at Metro State College in Denver.
"We hung in there with them quite a while in the first," said Chase Roeber, who took over as head coach after two seasons as assistant coach at Hotchkiss.
Despite trailing 41-28 at the half and getting outscored 26-12 in the third, "We never came close to quitting," said Roeber. "That spoke a lot for the boys," and especially for seniors Anthony Roeber, Trevor Walters, Sam Dutton, Zane Anderson and Daniel Ford. "That's the way they played throughout the year and that speaks highly of their leadership and character."
In preparing for the game, the Eagles focused on 6-foot-5 Austin Lefebure, who averages more than 20 points per game. In doing so, they opened the door for 6-foot-four junior Alex Terpstra, who "just kept hitting the threes."
Before it was over, Terpstra had hit eight of nine threes and racked up 37 points. "Their coach said it was the best game he'd ever played... There wasn't much we could do to stop him," said Roeber. The guards would push him beyond the perimeter. "He was shooting from 23, 24 feet back and making it."
Paonia ended the season at 7-16 overall and was 5-5 in league play.
Ford, Roeber and Walters all averaged more than 10 points per game, and Walters scored 108 of his 190 points from the three-point line and led the team in steals. Zane Anderson averaged 4.5 points per game, and post Sam Dutton, who missed four mid-season games due to an injury, averaged more than three.
"The seniors played well all year long," said Roeber.
In looking to next season, Roeber said he has a solid foundation from which to build.
Sophomore Ben Linnell "is playing defense really well," and with his ability to jump can pull down the rebounds. Linnell averaged almost seven points per game and was a force from the three-point line, where he was 19-34 for the season. Linnell also shot 91 percent in two-point field goals.
Of Linnell, Roeber said prior to the league tournament that he has the ability to be one of the best players on the court.
Junior Taylor Katzer averaged more than five points per game during the season, and Jason Stuigis more than four per game to his credit.
The Western Slope will go unrepresented in this year's state tournament after No. 1 Meeker was eliminated Saturday with a 35-33 loss to Lutheran.