Photo by Tamie Meck Paonia guard Taylor Katzer drives past Bulldog River Panish in the Feb. 26 district pigtail game against Hotchkiss. The 83-47 loss ended the season for Hotchkiss and sent Paonia into last weekend’s District 5 tournament seeded fourth. Paonia plays next in Durango against District 3 champion Ignacio (18-5 and 6-2 in the 2A San Juan League).In a much-hyped game that filled the Paonia bleachers last Tuesday, Paonia seized control of the first-round district pigtail game to defeat Hotchkiss, 83-47. The win ended the season for the Bulldogs, and gave Paonia the No. 4 seeding heading into last weekend's 2A District 5 tournament.
"We didn't come ready mentally," said Bulldog head coach Kyle Crowder. The loss gave the Bulldogs a 12-8 overall and 6-5 league record and ended a season filled with ups and downs.
But Paonia was ready, said coach Chase Roeber, and played one of its best games of the season, hitting all of its first-half free throws and committing only one shooting foul in the first half.
"We had everybody playing with an energy we haven't played with all year long," said Roeber. "Our shots fell, defensively it was our best game all year." And the press worked well. "That's been our philosophy all year," added Roeber. "The defense is going to win us the game."
Paonia neutralized senior Taylor Schreiner, who has consistently scored 17 points or more throughout the season and scored 18 points a week earlier against Paonia in the final game of the league season. Paonia walked away with a one-point win.
Eagles forward Ben Linnell requested the assignment to cover Schreiner, a request Roeber granted without hesitation.
"Schreiner was one of our main problems in the last game, which we only won by one," said Linnell. "I felt like I could stop him."
On offense, Linnell was hard to stop, hitting three three-pointers and ending the game with 16 points. Schreiner scored 11 points and fouled out with three minutes remaining in the game.
"We just had fun, we played as a team," said point guard Josiah Spano, who sank three treys and scored a game-high 21 points. "We just put all four quarters together, I think. We haven't been able to do that all season and this game I think we found ourselves and put it together."
Linnell and Spano each hit two three-pointers and Jason Sturgis added another to boost Paonia's halftime lead to 37-26.
Schreiner opened the second half with a field goal, and the Eagles responded with eight unanswered points. The Bulldogs called a timeout, and Cody Bartlett returned to shoot one of two third-period treys.
Then Paonia took off, finishing the third with a 61-38 lead. In the fourth its defense held Hotchkiss to three field goals, including two by post Chris Allen. The Eagles were in foul trouble, allowing Hotchkiss to score three points in five trips to the line.
Eagles Taylor Katzer, Taylor Walters and Sturgis joined Spano and Linnell in double-figure scoring.
Bartlett scored 12 points for the Bulldogs, and post Mason Oxford was held to six.
Crowder was already looking to next season. Hotchkiss will lose five seniors, including Bartlett, Oxford, Schreiner, Nicolas Rojas and Tye Bayles, but the team has a strong class of sophomores, including Allen, Andrew Tiedeman and River Panish. Tiedeman "is the first true point guard we've ran in six years," said Crowder.
And while it's been an up and down season and he's sad to lose so much talent, Crowder said he was happy to see his seniors experience some successes, including two wins over Paonia and second place at the Delta County tournament.
Oxford has been good in the post position and "does little things that go unnoticed. And Taylor, night in and night out he's scored about 17 points per game."
All-conference honors will be announced in about two weeks, and Crowder said he expects to see some of his players on the list.