The Paonia Lady Eagles are seeded first in Class 2A basketball after posting convincing wins over Hayden and Meeker at last weekend’s District 5 tournament. They will face District 1 opponent Custer County Friday at 6 p.m. at CMU.
Paonia claimed 2A District 5 tournament title last weekend at West Grand High School, outgunning Hayden 66-52 Friday and Meeker 69-46 for the championship on Saturday. The Lady Eagles are seeded first in Region 5 competition with a 21-1 overall and 9-0 in league play.
Paonia will face District 1's Custer County (13-8, 6-4) this Friday at Colorado Mesa University.
Despite the wins, Paonia still has things to work on, said head coach Scott Rienks.
The win over Hayden was hard-fought. Paonia was down by about eight points through most of the first half, said Rienks. Hayden's Aubree Haskins hit three field goals at the start to give the Lady Tigers an early lead.
The Lady Eagles run a fast-paced offense and it's worked well for them this season. But if they slowed the pace at all, Hayden would capitalize. Erin Koelher, who scored 29 in Hayden's 17-point conference loss to Paonia in February, was a challenge both offensively and defensively. She is 6-2, can handle the ball and shoot threes. Koelher ended the game with a team-high 20 points. "She's the best player we faced all year," said Rienks.
Paonia was down by five at the end of the first period, and trailed by one going into the half.
The Tigers' biggest weakness was depth, which is one of Paonia's greatest strengths. Hayden started to wear down and was outgunned 19-11 in the third. Paonia extended the lead by seven in the fourth. In the end, as they did against Hayden in February, Paonia used its depth and ability to rest players to outrun them.
The Lady Eagles are used to dominating and have won their games this season by an average of 30 points, but Hayden wasn't going to let them run away with the win. The Tigers changed their game, which surprised Paonia, but the Eagles adjusted well and didn't panic, said Rienks. They stuck together and played as a team. Points were spread out across the board, with Chelsy Reed scoring 13 and Carson Pipher and Annavah Kropp 12.
Pipher dominated the court against Meeker, scoring a personal- and game-best 24 points. Pipher, who averages almost nine points per game, typically shoots from outside, but tried her hand at driving the lane, resulting in eight field goals from within a short distance of the basket, said Rienks
Paonia shot well outside, too, hitting 11 of 29 threes.
Altman added 17 points against Meeker, including three treys, and Reed added 12. Ce'rra Carsten pulled down 10 defensive rebounds, and Paonia scored 12 of 19 from the line.
Hayden (14-6) finished third and will play Vanguard (18-4) in Region 7 playoffs, and second-place Meeker (15-5) will face Del Norte (16-6) in Region competition at Durango.
The wins boosted the Lady Eagles to the No. 1 spot in state 2A standings, ahead of Akron, but their focus remains on this week's regional tournament.
Paonia hasn't forgotten what happened last year when they were upset by Sargent at the regional level. With all of last year's team returning, Paonia vowed to do things right this year so they can return to the state tournament, which they last won in 2010.
Friday's game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Colorado Mesa University's Wayne Nelson Court. Region 4's Denver Christian (16-5) and Region 3's Ignacio (10-10) will play the other side of the bracket.
The winners of both games will play for the championship and a seeding at state at 11 a.m. Saturday. Playoff brackets are available at www.chsaa.org.