A shot at playing in the 3A state basketball tournament was more than worth the 401 mile trip to Sterling last week. Riding a school bus for more than 15 minutes would be enough to cause depression for many who deplore such confining quarters for any length of time. Delta High School's boys basketball team not only rode a team bus (regular route bus) for more than 15 minutes but endured around six hours (including a slow rush hour trek through Denver Metro) to reach a team practice session at Jefferson Academy last Thursday. The first leg of an earned journey to play in the 2018 regional state playoffs seemed endless for the Panthers.
After arriving at Jefferson Academy, Delta worked out for an hour and a half as they prepared to face No. 17 seed Arrupe Jesuit, a game it won, in the Class 3A regional playoffs in Sterling on Friday night.
Friday morning's schedule included climbing back on the 103 Victory Express (so called by head coach Rob Ames) for another leg of the journey to Wiggins High School for another shoot around and practice session. Following that hour-plus practice session, the Panthers boarded the bus for the final leg of their trip to Sterling (another hour and a half).
Sixteenth-seeded Delta faced an unfamiliar foe, Arrupe Jesuit Generals, who sported a shining 17-4 record. Delta's season mark was 15-7 coming into the contest but had confidence knowing it had played some excellent teams within the 3A WSL including No. 3 Coal Ridge, No. 13 Roaring Fork and No. 15 Grand Valley. The Cedaredge Bruins had also dealt the Panthers two of their seven losses on the year and were in the playoffs with a No. 31 seed.
The Panthers played their final game against Class 3A top-seeded Sterling, which boasted a 22-0 record. A hot-shooting Bodie Hume single-handedly decimated the Panthers' defense with 26 points and sent the Tigers into next week's Great Eight round (at Denver University's Hamilton Gym) with a 24-0 record following Saturday's win over Delta, 62-22.
Delta 76, Generals 66
Delta played a superb first half against Arrupe Jesuit and owned a lead of 38-28 at the break.
The Panthers outrebounded Arrupe Jesuit and added eight more points to their lead in the third quarter.
Arrupe Jesuit had a reputation of coming from behind in many of its wins during the season and the Generals demonstrated how that had happened with seven three-point goals in the fourth quarter during a 30-22 Arrupe Jesuit run. Eleazar Soto was responsible for three treys in the period while teammate Victor Ponce De Leon had two.
The Panthers might have gained a wider margin of victory had they made more than 11 of the 21 free throws shot in the period. As it was, Delta held onto its lead with a 22-point performance to weather Arrupe Jesuit's bombardment and claim a 76-66 victory.
Andrew Baier scored 17 points (six in the first quarter) and Logan Freed had 15 (six in the first and seven in the fourth quarters) to lead Delta's offense. Jaspar Carmichael added 12 points in the win and John Ames hit three long-distance shots and finished with 11 counters for the Panthers.
De Leon's 16 points topped the scorers list for the Generals and was followed by Eric Dawson (14), Elijah Chavez (13), Magdiel Apodaca (12) and Soto's 11.
Tigers 62, Delta 22
Delta believed it had favorable matchups with the No. 1 Tigers before Saturday afternoon's championship game began. Sterling's offense sputtered twice down the floor before Hume hit his first three-pointer from the right baseline corner.
In the end it was the offensive prowess which proved to be the major difference in the game. The Tigers used pinpoint passing and some devastating marksmanship from the perimeter, and an inside game which produced numerous dunks and putback shots.
Delta's defense was more porous than expected with Sterling moving the ball quickly to exploit gaps for easy buckets.
A 23-5 first quarter set the tone for the first-half play and led to a 20-1 second quarter and a 43-6 halftime lead for the Tigers.
Delta's offense showed signs of life in the second half but was too anemic to change the game's outcome. Sterling's offense tapered off in the second half but had enough firepower to earn a 19-16 edge in the second half for a 62-22 decision.
Freed and Carmichael had six and five points, respectively to lead Delta's offense.
Delta finished the season at 16-8 with its second-straight Sweet 16 appearance in as many seasons.
Though the final results were nowhere near desired results, Delta coach Rob Ames praised his team for its work throughout the season and acknowledged the accomplishments of his three seniors (Freed, Carmichael and Dylan Hollenbeck). "I'm so proud of you. You worked hard all season to get here. You were here because of the groundwork you laid down as freshmen."