With great regret, last week's exciting trip to the 2019 3A Boys and Girls State Basketball Championships ended far too soon for Delta High School's student athletes. Both the boys and girls' teams were part of a life's dream to play in a state tournament in front of a big crowd at a 'big venue.'
Delta's boys and girls were more than qualified to participate in the annual state competition to crown the top teams in five divisions of basketball. Both teams demonstrated their worth in arriving at Colorado's biggest basketball show of the year with program bests to match other state qualifiers from around the state. There are 73 teams in Colorado's 3A classification and the Delta Panthers made it to the 'Elite Eight' for the right to vie for a state championship.
Delta's boys were attending a state basketball tournament for the first time since 1978-79 and 1984. There have been numerous Delta Panther teams (both boys and girls) which have participated in Sweet 16 competitions over the years.
One of Delta County Independent's loyal readers offered some connecting links to the past success of Delta High School basketball teams. A reference to the time lapse for state participation in boys play at a state level was brought to light by former student/athlete David Kuta. Kuta's recollection of the last time a Delta High School boys basketball team attended a state competition, and played in an 'Elite Eight' game, dated back to the 1984 season. According to Kuta, the Panthers lost to Florence, Beat Centauri and lost to Fountain-Fort Carson to place sixth.
Previous to 1984, according to Kuta, a Delta team ventured across the mountains for an 'Elite Eight' appearance in 1978 and 1979, when brother Gregg was a member of the Delta team which participated in what was, at that time, simply referred to as the state tournament.
It would seem relevant to call any play past a district competition, such as the 3A District Tournament in Grand Junction, as a state tournament contest.
Kuta also noted all games in the 1984 state competition were played at the Auditorium Arena, which was torn down to make room for what is now the Colorado Convention Center. Thank you, Mr. Kuta, for sharing the facts and setting the record straight.
One of the most exciting parts to the Delta girls season was the fact that this year's team was the first to be in an 'Elite Eight' round in a so-noted segment of play in a state tournament.
Neither team should feel as though they had anything less than a successful season. Delta's boys finished the year with a school best 20-5 overall record and the girls recorded another school-best record of 23-2 in 2018-19, helping take the sting out of an old saying, "one and done."
Vanguard 62, Delta 53
Delta's first game of the season was in Denver against its last opponent of the year, The Vanguard School. The Coursers defeated Delta 82-62 in what Delta's coaching staff declared an early-season learning experience with the Panthers turning the ball over numerous times in the loss.
Last Thursday's contest against Vanguard was an entirely different game.
First quarter action was cautious with the Coursers easing to a 14-10 lead as the two teams prepared for the second quarter.
A pair of free throws from Jonathan Robinson pulled the Panthers to within two early in the second period. Vanguard stretched the lead out to seven (19-12) on a three-point goal from Dominique Clifford and a two-pointer from Seth Fuqua.
Two three-point goals by Kyle Mock tied the game at 22-22 near the three minute mark of the second period.
Six straight free throws and a field goal stretched the Courser lead to 30-22 with a minute left in the period.
Eli Farmer nailed a three-point goal from the left side and drove to the paint for a two-point goal to bring Delta to within five after a Clifford basket made the halftime score 32-27.
Delta fell behind by as many as eight in the third quarter before rallying to take a 38-37 lead on an Andrew Baier basket near the three minute mark in the third quarter.
Vanguard managed to squeeze out a five-point (45-40) lead by the end of the period.
The Panthers fell behind by eight early in the fourth quarter but fought back to trail by three on a Baier field goal at the six minute mark.
The closest Delta could get after that was on a Baier free throw which had the Panthers down two, 52-50, with under three minutes to go.
With Delta needing the ball, the Panthers were forced to foul and Vanguard hit enough of its free throws to pull away for a 62-53 victory.
The loss was bitter sweet for the Panthers as Vanguard went on to defeat No. 8 DSST: Stapleton in the semifinals to advance to the title game against No. 3 Manual, which defeated No. 2 Sterling, 61-55, in the other semifinal contest.
Manual went on to win the 2019 3A title against Vanguard, 80-68. Sterling finished third with its 72-37 decision over DSST: Stapleton.
Delta got 18 points from Mock to lead the Panther's offense. Teammate Jonathan Robinson finished with 12 points and Baier had nine.
Vanguard's Clifford scored 23 points to lead all scorers in the game with teammates Carter Milroy and Seth Fuqua finishing with 11 points each.
An emotional Rob Ames told his players after the game, "I'm so proud of you all. You played for each other and never quit. Never forget what you accomplished and share your stories with your children."
As for who might return for another 3A state title run ... nothing is certain. A look at the numbers indicates Resurrection Christian heads the list of potential returners with just two seniors leaving due to graduation. Teams losing three seniors include DSST: Stapleton and Montezuma Cortez. Lutheran will lose four seniors, as will Sterling.
The remainder of this year's field graduates five or more seniors. Delta leads the way with eight seniors, The Vanguard School has six and Manual will lose five.
Eaton 53, Delta 45
Defensive pressure by both teams created a few turnovers and miscues for both teams. The Reds had more turnovers (20-17) in the game but prevailed offensively with higher shooting percentages than did the Panthers. Delta was eight of 22 from the field in the first half (36.4%) and six of 25 in the second half (24.0%) for a game total of 14 for 47 and a 29.8% game average. Eaton was 10 of 19 in the first half and six of 20 in the second half for a 16 of 39 game performance and a 41.0%.
The game became physical the longer teams played and a total of 48 fouls were called. Delta had the edge in this category with 14 of 23 made freethrows (60.9%) while the Reds made 16 of 28 for a 57.1%.
Eaton took advantage of Delta's missed shots in the first quarter and came away with a 15-9 lead.
The Panthers shaved one point off Eaton's lead in the second quarter with their 15-14 advantage to trail 29-24 at halftime. At the end of the third quarter Delta had trimmed Eaton's lead to 36-35.
A 17-10 fourth quarter allowed the Reds to pull away for a 53-45 quarterfinal win in this year's 3A state playoffs.
Sophomore Keely Porter had another good day on offense for the Panthers with 15 points to lead all scorers in the game. Porter also had six rebounds and was seven of 11 at the free throw line to go with her one assist and four steals. Sara Geddes scored 12 points (four-for-four free throws) and had 12 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Freshman Erika Kuta was Delta's third player in double figures, offensively, with 11 points. Kuta also pulled down four rebounds in the contest.
Eaton's final game of the 2019 state tournament came in its Final Four loss to eventual state champion St. Mary's, 54-20. It was St. Mary's second straight title.
Next year's 3A state tournament could see the same eight teams, who played in this year's Elite Eight, return for another run for the title. Eaton has four seniors moving on while Alamosa, Colorado Springs Christian and Delta all graduating three seniors. Centauri will lose two seniors with Pagosa Springs and St. Mary's needing to replace just one senior in 2019-20.