An error in last week's DCI had the Paonia boys losing only to Hotchkiss earlier in the season, when, in fact, Grand Valley's Cardinals should have been given that victory. Grand Valley handed the Eagles their only loss of the season to date, a 60-49 decision on Dec. 19 in Parachute. Since that time, the Eagles are on a 17-game winning streak and have a 23-1 record.
Paonia comes into the state tournament as the state's No. 6-ranked team.
The Eagles put together an exciting weekend of basketball in Rifle, where the Region 3 Pool 2 play concluded on Saturday.
Paonia faced two scrappy teams from District 7 and scored exciting wins to earn a berth in this year's 2A state tournament in Pueblo. As the second seed, Paonia opened play against District 7 opponent Dayspring Christian Academy of Greeley. The Eagles finished third in the Mile High league standings and entered regional play as the No. 7 seed with a 15-6 record. Paonia battled its way to a 66-54 win and advanced to the title game in Pool 2 play against Highland.
Paonia had its hands full with the Mustangs before pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 50-40 win in championship play.
Paonia 66, DCA 54
Paonia had some magic from long range to start the game against Dayspring Christian. Colby Simpson netted a pair of treys while teammates Franny Lopez and Trevor Plymale had single contributions from beyond the arc. The 18-10 start helped Paonia keep ahead through second-quarter play.
Lopez and Simpson added five points apiece in the second quarter as the Eagles scored 17 points to take a 35-24 lead to their locker room at halftime.
Daysprings' Jon Cowles hit three of his six 3-pointers in the second quarter to keep the Eagles from Greeley close.
In the third quarter, Paonia was leading 37-28 with 4:40 left in the period. DCA called a time out with 1:24 left in the quarter, hoping to stop the bleeding after Paonia began extending its leadon the play of Dagan Rienks, who tallied six points in the stanza. Paonia was able to gain six points on DCA and led 49-32 with a quarter left to play.
Paonia scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, eight coming at the free-throw line (Simpson was 6-6). DCA went on a scoring binge and tossed in four 3-pointers on its way to 22 points in the quarter.
Given the accuracy of DCA's shooters from beyond the arc, Paonia coach Chase Roeber commented on how his team responded to the long-distance barrages. "We knew they could shoot. We saw teams that could shoot like that in summer play. All we could do is control what we could control and it worked out."
Energy levels were high for both teams and Roeber was smiling when he said, "It's nice to have a bench like we've got." Roeber knows the importance of his bench and also said, "There's nothing easy from here on out."
Paonia had four players in double figures led by Simpson's 19. Lopez finished with 17, Rienks 11 and Walters another 10 for the winners.
Cowles had 24 points for DCA to lead all scorers in the game.
Eagles 50, Huskies 40
The Huskies, from Ault, finished second in 2A District 7 standings with a 19-5 record.
The first quarter was played evenly, with each team scoring 10 points. Tanner Dill and Reese Anderson scored five points each for the Huskies while Lopez's four counters paced Paonia's offense in the first period.
Paonia shot 10 free throws in the second quarter, making seven, on its way to a 13-point period. Simpson had six points (4-4 free throws) and Walters another five for the Eagles.
There were plenty of nerves for both sides with Paonia leading 23-19 at halftime.
Highland stepped up its offensive attack to outscore the Eagles, 16-10, and take a 35-33 lead heading into the final period.
Paonia's intensity improved in the fourth quarter, with the offense putting up 17 points and its defense shutting down the Huskies' offense, allowing just five points.
Highland was forced to foul in order to get the ball for its offense in the fourth quarter. The Eagles cashed in on 11 of 14 attempts helping Paonia record its 50-40 decision and earn a state playoff berth.
Lopez scored 15 points for the winners and got double-digit help from Simpson (13) and Walters (12).
Dill finished with 11 points and Reese Anderson had 10 for Highland.
Paonia moves on to play in this weekend's 2A State Basketball Championships in Pueblo, March 10-12.
Games are scheduled to be played at Massari Gymnasium on the campus of CSU-Pueblo.
The Eagles (22-2), ranked sixth, are scheduled to play against No. 3 Sedgwick County (22-1) on Thursday, March 10, at 10:15 a.m.
A schedule for the first day of tournament action appears in today's sports section scoreboard.