The Eagles upped their winning streak to five games and their conference record to 9-1 last week with wins over Vail Mountain, North Park and West Grand.
The North Park and West Grand games marked the first starts for junior Elan Maulhardt.
After their Jan. 30 73-64 conference win at Vail Mountain, senior starter Riley Simianer was sick and missed a day, pushing Maulhardt into the starting position, said head coach Chase Roeber.
"Elan is playing really well on both ends," said Roeber.
Paonia 66, NP 41
Against North Park Friday night, Sean Devlin scored nine of his 11 first-half points on threes and Enoch Kropp added six points to give the Eagles a 33-22 halftime lead.
Midway through the third period, with Devlin and Kropp in foul trouble, North Park lead scorer Nic Martin put six unanswered points on the board, bringing the Wildcats to within nine points of a tie.
With the starters back in, a trey by David Lozano put Paonia up by 11, and a buzzer shot by Simianer gave Paonia a 10-point lead heading into the final quarter.
Martin scored the first four points for the Cats, who quickly narrowed the lead to six. Lozano hit another three, Devlin shot two unanswered three pointers and Kropp scored from the paint to give Paonia a 57-40 lead.
In the fourth, Devlin, Kropp and Lozano came out firing. Two consecutive treys by Devlin gave the Eagles a 15-point lead, a goal by Kropp boosted the lead to 17 point, and in the final two and a half minutes, the JV players finished the game.
Paonia 73, WG 44
West Grand came out strong in the first quarter against Paonia, quickly taking a 14-8 lead. Kropp put a three-point play together, and scored from the arc to narrow the lead to two. On a fast break, Devlin connected with Kropp under the net to end the first quarter in a 16-16 tie.
In the second half, early goals by Kropp and Podgorny put Paonia up by six, and Devlin upped the lead to eight, then shot another trey for a 27-17 lead. West Grand chipped away at the lead, and at the half, Paonia trailed, 32-30, on a buzzer shot by Simianer.
They knew West Grand played a fast game, "and their transition points were hurting us early in the game," said Roeber. After some defensive adjustments, Paonia broke open the game in the third, scoring 11 unanswered points and holding West Grand to six points. The Eagles led, 55-38, heading into the final period.
Devlin and Simianer each opened the fourth on a three-pointer; again the defense held the Mustangs to six points for the period.
Defense made all the difference between the first and second half, said Maulhardt. Toward the end of the first half the offense wasn't effective and wasn't transitioning well under West Grand's press, allowing the Mustangs to control the floor. "We slowed ourselves down and started moving our offense more," said Maulhardt. When Paonia switched its defense from zone to man, "That kind of rattled them."
The Eagles also cleaned up their turnovers in the second half, said Roeber. Between that and some good shooting, "that made a difference in the game."
In the final two minutes, the bench came in to hold the Mustangs scoreless, and Logan Green and Landon Thliveris each scored a goal.
The toughest tests of the season are still ahead. With Paonia, Meeker and Rangely filling out the top three spots in this week's MaxPreps standings, the next two games will determine the number one seed heading into the 2A District 5 tournament on Feb. 20.
Paonia travels this Friday to Meeker (10-3, 6-1). Both teams have losses against 3A Coal Ridge and Grand Valley, and Meeker lost by 16 points to Rangely. Paonia will host the final regulation game against Rangely on Feb. 16. The Panthers lost, 64-47, Saturday to Vail Christian, which was coming off of a 13-point loss on Jan. 26 to Paonia.
"Hopefully we're peaking at the right moment," said Roeber. "We're cleaning some stuff up from earlier in the year" and reaching the level they need to be at for districts.