A couple of tough-luck games at the 2017 boys' Class 2A State Basketball Championships were all that stood in the way of Paonia High School's shot at a state basketball title.
The Eagles had some early difficulty handling the No. 3 Del Norte Tigers in quarterfinal play before dispatching them with a 45-37 win. In semifinal action, Paonia led 30-22 at halftime over Holyoke. That lead grew to 46-34 by the end of the third quarter. A dramatic finish to the game included some controversial events which went in favor to the Dragons resulting in a heartbreaking 64-63 overtime loss for Paonia.
Saturday's third place matchup with Highland was another fourth-quarter turnaround resulting in a 60-53 loss which left the Eagles with a fourth-place finish in the 2017 state championships.
For head coach Chase Roeber the back-to-back losses were emotionally draining for the Eagles. "We played hard for three days and had our chances. These kids have played together since they were itty-bitty. Things didn't go our way the last two days, but there were only six 2A (boys) basketball teams playing today (Saturday) and we were in the top four. Had the ball bounced differently things might have been different. I couldn't be more proud of these guys. Everybody did what was needed to get us to this point and they played for each other as a team. This is a special group ... I'll miss them."
Eagles 45, Tigers 37
There seemed to be a lid on the basket at times as both teams had shots rim out or take unusual bounces. Del Norte shooters had better results than the Eagles and took a 12-4 lead after the first eight minutes of the game.
Both the offense and defense got better for Paonia in the second quarter. Triston Mautz asserted himself on offense and scored eight of the Eagles' 12 points with a pair of field goals and a 4-4 performance at the charity stripe. At the other end of the floor Paonia's defense denied the Tigers' offense many opportunities to score and kept them from scoring any points in the quarter. Paonia led at halftime 16-12.
Senior Dagan Rienks went to work in the third quarter and scored nine points to lead the Eagles on a 16-13 run giving No. 6 Paonia a 32-25 lead with one period left to play.
A one-point difference in the last quarter made the final score 45-37.
Rienks was the game's leading scorer with 21 points, including nine of 15 from the free throw line. Mautz finished with 10 points. Carlos Parra had 15 points to lead Del Norte scorers.
HHS 64, Eagles 63-OT
Defense, and mistakes, kept the game close to begin this contest. Paonia had five players figure in the Eagles' 12-point scoring in the quarter and Holyoke had two players contribute seven points.
Mautz scored six of Paonia's 16 points in the second quarter and Holyoke's Alex Strauss had seven of the Dragon's 15 points making the halftime score 30-22.
Holyoke's Austin Herman scored seven points in a third-quarter push which netted 12 points for the Dragons. Paonia got another eight points from Mautz during a 16-point effort by the Eagles in the same time span.
Paonia, leading 46-34 to begin the final stanza, was unable to hold off a hot shooting Holyoke team in the fourth quarter. The No. 2 Dragons hit four 3-pointers on their way to a 23-point explosion. An 11-point effort by Paonia tied the game at 57-all with a controversial call changing the outcome of the game.
Paonia, seemingly, had scored the go-ahead basket with less than five seconds remaining in regulation and was fouled on the play. Instead of potentially giving the Eagles a two-point lead, one official intervened and said Holyoke had called time out prior to losing the ball to Paonia for the last shot. Rienks' basket was negated and the ball given to Holyoke to end regulation play and force overtime.
In the four-minute extra period, six shots were taken from the free throw line for Holyoke and two more for the Eagles. Colby Simpson's two 3-pointers fell one point short as the Dragons scored seven points to win the game, 64-53 and earn a berth in Saturday's championship game against No. 1 Sedgwick County.
Huskies 60, Eagles 53
This contest was a tale of two games. Paonia won the first half 32-26 and No. 5 Highland won the second half 34-21. Unfortunately, the scores added together for each team resulted in a 60-53 win for the Huskies.
Simpson was on from the perimeter in the second quarter and accounted for eight of Paonia's 19 points in the frame.
Paonia's offense, in the third quarter, consisted of Rienks' nine points. Trey Allmon's two 3-pointers helped the Huskies win the quarter 14-9.
Highland's fourth-quarter scoring was paced by Cole Rouse's eight points. The Eagles collected 10 points from Rienks in the final period.
Rienks netted 26 counters in the loss for Paonia with teammates Mautz and Simpson chipping in 10 points each.
Allmon had 15 points to lead Highland's offense and Rouse contributed another 13.
Paonia finished the season with a 22-4 record and a fourth-place finish in the 2017 state tournament.
Holyoke went on to defeat Sedgwick County, 44-41, in the title game.