Last Tuesday's pigtail game against Rangely was a win-or-go-home situation for Paonia.
They, the Eagles, were ranked fifth in the league and needed to defeat the No. 4 Panthers in order to stay alive in league playoffs.
After ending the season with a four-game losing streak, including a 70-58 loss to the Panthers just three days earlier, the Eagles reached deep and pulled out a 65-55 win over Rangely — a win that not only gave them a slot in the 2A District 5 playoffs, but guaranteed them a regional game.
Senior guard Trevor Walters opened the game with a three against Rangely, and that set the tone for the team, said head coach Chase Roeber. "Trevor caught on fire," and scored a career-high five threes before the game was over.
Walters said at last week's practice that he knew from the tip-off that the team wouldn't lose this time. Walters said he kept looking to pass inside to his posts - where most of this year's points came from, and they just kept dishing it back to him. His confidence grew after he hit the first two.
Sophomores Ben Linnell and Jason Sturgis were key to the win, particularly on defense, said Roeber. While neither scored big, Linnell pulled down some good rebounds, and Sturgis contributed at both ends of the court. "You don't have to score a bunch of points to help the team," said Roeber.
Post Daniel Ford, who is averaging a team-high 12 points per game, said the win definitely lightened the mood at practice, but the team knew that they had a hard road ahead.
With a guaranteed seeding in the coming weekend's regional tournament, it wasn't win-or-go-home for Paonia.
Despite having played them close in both regular-season games, the Eagles lost by a 62-43 decision in their opening game against first-seeded Meeker on Friday.
The Eagles fell to Hayden 73-67 Saturday to place fourth and advance. Meeker claimed the district championship after defeating West Grand in Saturday's champinoship contest.
With the field narrowed to 32 teams, Paonia took its fourth-seeded record to their first round game against Region 4's Denver Christian (21-0) Friday at Metro State College in Denver. The Crusaders, who were seventh at state in 2011, defeated Lutheran Parker (13-9) 61-46 to win their district title.