After a shaky start the Paonia Eagles pulled off a convincing 63-33 regional win over Telluride Saturday to advance to the final eight round of the CHSAA state basketball championships.
"We were the last ones to punch our ticket," said head coach Chase Roeber after the late evening 63-33 win at Western State Colorado University's Mountaineer Field House in Gunnison.
The team's three top players, senior starters Triston Mautz, Dagan Rienks and Colby Simpson, "all showed up," said Roeber. Mautz scored a game high 19 points, Rienks scored 11 of his 14 points for the game in the second, and Simpson, who scored two goals, kept feeding the ball to the big guys on the inside.
The bench played a big part in the win, said Roeber. Last week ahead of the district tournament Roeber said he coached his players on sticking to their individual roles and doing their jobs. Against Telluride, "Role players showed up big." In the second period Enoch Kropp, Sean Devlin, and Trevor Smith were key to holding the Telluride offense to two points.
Paonia trailed early in the game but held a narrow 14-13 lead at the end of the first period. Sean Devlin came off the bench to sink a three-pointer from the sideline with 10 seconds left on the board. "It was important to get that lead and give us the spark that really got us going," said Roeber.
The Eagles came out strong in the second, scoring 18 unanswered points and leading, 28-15, at the half, with Telluride's first and only goal of the second coming with less than two minutes remaining.
With two seconds remaining in the third, Paonia took a 52-22 lead on a goal by Mautz.
"They just refused to be stopped tonight," said Roeber.
Smith scored two goals in the fourth period, but more than that, said Roeber, he took a charge, pulled down "rebound after rebound," and made big plays that helped energize the team in the second period.
Kropp scored a three-pointer late in the third period to keep the momentum going, and added two more points on a fast break to put Paonia up, 50-20. Alex Lozano shot two three-pointers in the first half, and junior point guard Slater Podgorny opened the second half with two goals. Caden Meilner came off the bench in the fourth to score four points.
Those little things added up to a big win, said Roeber.
Rienks said the team knew enough about Telluride's game going in to know they could get the win, but with a state berth at stake, "We were all kind of a little nervous knowing that if we lose, we're out. But once we started to settle in and play, there was no doubt who the better team was."
The game was a good one to take to state, said Roeber. "The last three games we've ended on high notes and played well. We've got some good momentum going in."
Paonia, one of four returning state qualifiers and the only Western Slope team to make the final 8 tournament, is seeded sixth. It will open the tournament Thursday against No. 3 Del Norte. At Gunnison the Tigers defeated Hotchkiss, 56-43, in semifinals and topped Ignacio, 55-34, to advance to the final 8.
The Lower Platte League qualified three teams for state. At 22-1, Sedgwick County is seeded first, Holyoke (19-4) is the No. 2 seed, and Akron (18-5) is seeded fourth. No. 5 Highland (23-0), No. 7 Fowler (20-3) and No. 8 seed and defending state champion Sanford (16-7) are also in the final 8 tournament.
The win was a team effort, said Rienks. Everyone did what they were supposed to do. "We've just got to polish up some things and take them into state."