Hotchkiss High School's boys are still alive and fighting for a berth in the 2016 2A State Basketball Championships in Pueblo.
The Bulldogs won their quarterfinal game against Soroco, 67-46, on Feb. 23.
The win in Oak Creek secured a spot in last week's semifinal and championship round competition held in De Beque. Hotchkiss met Paonia in the semifinal round on Friday and was dealt a 61-38 loss to the top-seeded Eagles.
Saturday's third-place matchup against Vail Christian was a 52-45 loss and an eighth seed in this week's regional play in Rifle and Coal Ridge.
HHS 67, Soroco 46
The trip to Oak Creek is long and tiring, with school something to look forward to the next day.
Hotchkiss made the most of its trip by recording a 21-point victory over the Rams for its troubles.
The score was tied at 10-10 after one period. Quarter number two was not any better for the Bulldogs as they found themselves down, 24-17, at the break.
Hotchkiss' halftime message came from one of the Bulldogs' players, who was unable to play due to an injury. When coach Eric Hollembeak asked the young player (Jayden Simpson) what he thought about the first half, Simpson was quick with his answer. Facing his teammates, Simpson's message was, "I can't play ... but you can."
The Bulldogs came out in the third quarter and scorched the net for 27 points to take a 44-35 lead when the period had ended.
Another 23 points in the fourth quarter completed a 50-point turnaround which produced the 67-46 victory. "Hollembeak's thoughts following the game were testimonial, "This goes to show you what you can do if you believe it can be done."
Paonia 61, HHS 38
Hotchkiss' semifinal round opponent, Paonia, had felt the sting of a loss at the hands of the Bulldogs earlier in the season. That loss lingered on the minds of players and coaches alike.
Colby Simpson and Dagan Rienks wanted to start strong to control outside and inside the paint. Simpson scored five points and Rienks another four as the Eagles jumped out to a 15-10 first-quarter lead. Zack Allen had four of Hotchkiss' 10 points.
Rienks played well inside in the second period, scoring four points and leading Paonia on a 12-7 run and a 27-17 halftime lead.
Clayton Oxford tossed in six points for the Bulldogs in third-period play and Rienks funneled eight points through the net for Paonia in a stalemate (13-13) between the two teams.
Paonia took control for good in the fourth quarter with Simpson igniting a 21-point spurt for the Eagles with his seven points. The Bulldogs finished the quarter with eight points and a 61-38 loss.
Memories of the earlier loss to Hotchkiss were still on Paonia coach Chase Roeber's mind. For him, the difference in last Friday's game was "nerves and our composure. Hotchkiss had a ghost defender on Trevor Plymale and it got to us early. We did not play tough enough."
Hollembeak, when asked what the turning point was in the game for his Bulldogs, didn't bat an eye when he responded with, "It was the dunk by Rienks in the fourth quarter. It seemed to break us. Even though it was just two points, it seemed like six. But we played hard and had some ill-timed shots and turnovers. We played good defense but they hit their shots."
Rienks was the game's leading scorer for Paonia with 20 points. Simpson added 14 points in support of the win. Oxford led the Bulldogs with eight points and Allen had seven.
The loss landed Hotchkiss in the tournament's third-place game against Vail Christian, a 36-29, loser to Cedaredge.
VC 52, Hotchkiss 45
Hotchkiss didn't really get its offense in rhythm until the fourth quarter where it scored 18 points. Prior to that the Bulldogs had scores of seven, nine and nine for the first three quarters.
Vail Christian's David Caballero scored eight of his team's 14 points in the first quarter, enabling the Saints to take a 14-7 lead.
Each team posted nine points in the second frame, with Vail Christian taking a 23-16 lead at halftime.
Logan Raitt, the game's leading scorer, had nine points in the third quarter as Vail Christian put up eight more points than the Bulldogs for a 40-25 lead.
Allen and Gabe Rodriguez tallied five points each in Hotchkiss' 18-point fourth quarter.
Oxford scored 10 points to lead the Bulldogs. Allen and Gabe Rodriguez finished with nine points each.
The Bulldogs will have a regional berth in Coal Ridge against No. 1 Resurrection Christian at 7:30 p.m. Friday.