Photo by Tamie Meck Eagles point guard Josiah Spano scores against Hayden last Friday at the 2A District 5 tournament in Paonia. Paonia was in the game until the final period, when Hayden applied full-court pressure in the final minutes of the game.After dominating the court over rival Hotchkiss to win the first-round district playoff game, Paonia continued to play strong at last weekend's district games against Hayden and West Grand. But after losing close games to No. 1-seed Hayden and No. 3 West Grand, Paonia finished fourth.
Hayden 60, Paonia 47
Throughout the season no other team in the WSL came as close to upsetting Hayden than Paonia. The Eagles suffered a one-point loss in January to the Tigers, the team seeded first in last weekend's district tournament at Paonia.
And for the first three quarters it looked as if they had a shot at an upset. Paonia trailed 40-37 with eight minutes remaining in the game despite being outscored 18-7 in the second period.
But with so much at stake, the Tigers, who were undefeated in Western Slope conference play, weren't about to be out-manned. After Ben Linnell opened the fourth with a goal, Hayden went to a full-court press and held the Eagles scoreless for almost six minutes, scoring 12 unanswered points to put an Eagles' win out of reach.
With his post players in foul trouble and trailing 52-39, coach Chase Roeber called a full timeout with just under three minutes remaining in the game.
"They brought pressure and we didn't handle it," said Roeber after the 60-47 loss that sent them to the district consolation game against West Grand. "That's what it came down to."
The Eagles were unable to make quick transitions to defense, allowing Hayden to set up the press. When Paonia did break through, they dished the ball inside, allowing Taylor Walters to shoot 2-2 from the line and squeeze out two more goals.
That they pressed wasn't unexpected, said Roeber. In their league match, Hayden used a full-court press, "And we broke it easily. They didn't handle it this time."
With Paonia's post players in foul trouble, Hayden went inside to shooting guard Paul Laliberty, who drew three fouls that put them in double bonus, and shot a perfect 6-6 from the line to end the game.
After their early-season loss to Hayden, the No. 2 team in the state, and an 83-47 win over Hotchkiss in first-round district play, there was a lot of pre-game hype and pressure on the team to perform, said Roeber. "We let the magnitude of the game get to us. I think that's about it."
The loss sent Paonia to Saturday's consolation game against West Grand.
WG 65, Paonia 58
While only five West Grand players scored Saturday against Paonia, four scored in double digits. West Grand scored the first eight points of the game and held Paonia to two goals in the first period.
West Grand came out to score five and take a 21-6 lead early in the second. After missing several outside shots, Paonia went inside to posts Taylor Walters and Lane Clawson, and with help from a scoring drive by Ben Linnell, Paonia put up 15 unanswered points to tie the game at 21-21 with 2:19 remaining in the half. West Grand fouls put Paonia in the bonus early in the period to give Paonia seven trips to the line for six points. Paonia led, 31-26, at the half.
The Mustangs came out strong in the third to pull ahead by four. Eric Carney was fouled on an inside shot. Carney sank his free throw to tie the game at 42. But the Mustangs scored 5 of 6 from the line to take a 49-44 lead going into the final period.
Paonia will travel south to Durango for its opening-round game in the Region Three tournament. It opens Friday night against District 3 champion Ignacio (18-5 overall, 6-2 2A San Juan League). The winner will face either Sargent (12-10 overall, 7-3 Southern Peaks League) or Lutheran (16-5, 5-3 Denver Metro League) Saturday, with the winner advancing to next week's state finals in Pueblo.