In their closest game in more than a decade, the Paonia Eagles edged out rival Hotchkiss in the District 5 consolation round Saturday at De Beque High School to qualify for this week's regional basketball playoffs.
Seniors Kassidy Rapke scored a game-high 13 points for Paonia, and Andi Todd scored 12.
Paonia head coach Scott Rienks credited Hotchkiss and head coach Haillie Taylor for a job well done.
With only eight players on the roster and playing their third game in four days, "They were very tired," said Taylor.
Hotchkiss was down by 11 points at the half, then put the pressure on to outscore Paonia in the last two periods. Taylor said that with about two minutes remaining in the game, Hotchkiss senior Yasmine Gaub hit a three-pointer, then hit a second three-pointer with a minute remaining, putting a win within reach.
Paonia had 23 fouls called on it, most of them in the second half, said Rienks. One of those calls came in the final minute, and at the three-point line, giving Hotchkiss three free throws. Both coaches disagreed with the call.
Hotchkiss hit two of three shots to trail by two points. The Eagles defense dug in, and Paonia won the game, 46-44. "They never gave up," said Rienks.
Hotchkiss junior Carson Collins scored a team-high 11 points and was 5-for-5 from the line. Freshman Amelia Hickham shot 4-of-5 from the line, and sophomores Shay Glaser, who scored six points and was 4-for-7 from the line, and Elsie Vasquez, who scored nine points, "really stepped up," said Taylor.
Paonia opened the tournament Wednesday on a 44-37 quarterfinal loss to fourth seeded Vail Christian. It advanced to the fifth-place game on a 38-17 consolation win over Hayden. Rienks gave credit to Hayden for its determination. Paonia rotated 12 players in and kept the press going throughout the game, at one point leading by 18.
With a roster of underclassmen, Hayden is a very young team and was tired after playing a come-from-behind win over Plateau Valley in the pigtail (elimination) round of the tournament. While pigtail games were played Monday, Hayden played Tuesday and didn't have a day of rest before facing second-seeded Meeker Wednesday in quarterfinals, a game it lost, 66-25.
Only 32 teams remain in contention for a state berth. Paonia will be seeded 24th when it opens Region 8 play Friday evening against ninth-seeded Denver Christian (17-4). The winners will face either No. 8 Ignacio, or No. 25 Sanford. In looking at the tournament, Rienks said he's not worried about his team's defense, which consistently holds teams to lower than average scores. It's the scoring that needs to improve.
Once the regional tournament opens, he said," anything can happen... If they hit their shots, they can be in it."
RHS 58, HHS 42
Hotchkiss opened district play on a 58-42 quarterfinal loss to number three Rangely, then advanced to Saturday's fifth-place game against Paonia on a 52-41 win over seventh seed West Grand.
Sophomore Elsie Vasquez scored a game- and season-high 14 points.
As with Paonia, the Bulldogs struggled to score in the opening period throughout the tournament, said Taylor. Against West Grand, they trailed by four to start the second period, then tied the game at 19-19 to end the half.
The Bulldogs opened the tournament with a 58-42 loss at Rangely, which was seeded third.
To end the season on a two-point loss to Paonia was a tough way to go out, said Taylor. Hotchkiss's 10-11 record marks a big improvement over past years. Three years ago, in her first year as head coach, they ended the season with a 1-19 record; in 2017 they improved to 6-15.
The team also met several goals this season, including a district qualification without having to play a pigtail game, and playing strong in the second half, which was a big problem last season.
After losing 10 players in January, they canceled their C-team and JV games.
The eight players who stayed, said Taylor, worked hard for the remainder of the season, didn't have to play a pigtail game, and earned a good seed in a very competitive league.
"They really turned the program around," said Taylor. This year they will lose one senior. The team is already planning its summer, said Taylor. Among the plans, it wants to host a summer tournament.