With two weeks remaining in regulation play the Eagles upped their 2A/1A Western Slope conference record to 7-2 with wins over North Park and West Grand.
Paonia 42, NP 37
Paonia's conference win Friday over North Park (10-5, 3-5, 1A WSL) wasn't pretty, but it was a win.
Head coach Scott Rienks said he knew that despite its 2-4 conference record coming into the game, North Park would be a challenge. Early in the season they defeated West Grand by 32 points.
Paonia maintained the lead throughout the first three quarters, but in the fourth, let North Park back in the game. Halfway through the period, the Cats trailed by four. Rienks called a timeout with 1:31 remaining in the game, and North Park forced a turnover and called a timeout.
Senior Andi Todd took a trip to the foul line to up the lead by six. North Park responded with a goal, and with less than 10 seconds on the board. An intentional foul by the Cats sent Paonia to the line to score a final point and end the game at 42-37.
Paonia 35, WG 23
After a slow first half, the Eagles pulled away in the second half to defeat West Grand. With four Mustang players standing 5-10 or taller, players were coming up short on their shots and turning the ball over on passes.
"I think that was definitely the most height we've seen," said senior Mckenna Palmer, the team's 6-foot post player. "We kind of panicked because of that height."
Rienks said he wasn't sure going into the game how to match his players against the Cats' height. At the end of the first quarter, Paonia led, 7-4.
By the half, players were gaining confidence, penetrating the key and taking shots, said Palmer. Once they got comfortable, "I think that's where we beat their defense." At the half, Paonia led, 22-17.
As they have all year, the Eagles played well on defense, said Rienks. In the second half they allowed West Grand a total of six points, and led, 35-23, heading into the final period. Rienks said the game was an opportunity to see what the team would do with the lead and allowed them to work on their offensive skills rather than battle for points.
And they definitely finished better against West Grand than against North Park the previous day, he said.
At 11-5 overall and 7-2 in the 2A WSL, the Eagles are fourth in MaxPrep standings with two games remaining before the District 5 tournament begins on Feb. 20. They travel to No. 3 Meeker (10-4, 6-1) Friday. On Feb. 16, they host the final regulation game against 7-1 Rangely, currently in second place behind 9-0 Soroco.
Rienks said he's confident in the team's defense, but where it finishes the season and the next two games "will basically come down to getting the ball in the hole. The defense has played well all year long. Now they just need to score."