3A WSL boys and girls well-represented in regional playoffs
For the first time in at least four years, Coal Ridge, Grand Valley and Roaring Fork high schools will see their boys and girls basketball teams playing on the first weekend in March in the 3A regional playoffs.
The No. 6 Coal Ridge Titans boys basketball team is the only regional host in Garfield County, but the No. 22 Grand Valley Cardinals get to remain close to home, as they’ll take on No. 11 Resurrection Christian at Coal Ridge High School Friday night at 7 p.m.
While the Titans and Cardinals boys gets to stay home for the regional tournament, the No. 17 Roaring Fork Rams have to travel to No. 1 Lutheran to take on No. 16 St. Mary’s Friday night. Roaring Fork finished second in the 3A WSL in the regular season standings, as well as the district tournament, but the Rams have to hit the road for the first-round matchup due to the RPI standings playing out the way that they did.
“When it’s based on the RPI it’s kind of understandable that’s where we’re gonna be,” said Larry Williams, Roaring Fork’s veteran head coach. “Some losses earlier in the season really hurt us, as did some injuries that we dealt with. But that’s how it goes.”
In the girls bracket, No. 14 Grand Valley is the highest seed in the county and will be one of six league teams to make the 32-team regional tournament field. For the third time in four years, the Cardinals will travel to No. 3 Pagosa Springs for a first-round matchup with No. 19 The Vanguard School Friday night at 8 p.m.
No. 28 Coal Ridge made the regional tournament for the second time in four years under head coach Clyde Morgan, while No. 23 Roaring Fork made the tournament for the second straight year under third-year head coach Jade Bath. The Titans travel to No. 5 Eaton to take on the Reds at 7 p.m., while the Rams take on No. 10 Centauri at 2:30 p.m. at No. 7 The Academy.
For the second straight year, Coal Ridge hosts a regional tournament under head coach Paul Harvey. Last season at the regional tournament in New Castle, the Titans defeated Frontier Academy before dropping a heartbreaking decision to Manual. This year, the Titans (18-4, 6-3 3A WSL) face off with No. 27 Jefferson Academy.
Despite dropping just four games all season, there were some serious trials and tribulations the Titans had to go through this season, including three straight league losses in the middle of the season, and a senior captain leaving the team in late January. Still, the Titans battled through that to land a regional host bid.
“I’m extremely proud of this group of kids,” said Harvey. “For three league losses to be considered a down year, I think that shows that we’ve raised the bar around here for what people are expecting. We’re just super excited, though. Our league really improved and challenged us nightly, which made us better and forced us to relook at things we were doing.”
The Jaguars come into Friday’s matchup sporting a 14-9 (4-6 3A Metro) record on the year. Jefferson Academy and Coal Ridge have played four common opponents this season in Lutheran, Grand Valley, Peak to Peak and Faith Christian, so the Titans should be able to take quite a bit from those games on film. On top of common opponents, Harvey is very familiar with Jefferson Academy head coach Mark Sharpley, who has been in charge of the Jaguars for 18 years.
“We played them back-to-back years in the regional tournament in 2011 and 2012,” said Harvey. “They’re very similar to Roaring Fork in that they’re a tough defensive team and are always prepared. They like to sag into the lane and challenge every shot. They’re a battle-tested group, so we can’t overlook them at all.”
Grand Valley finds itself in an ideal spot in the regional bracket after missing out on a chance to host a regional tournament after a quarterfinal loss to Coal Ridge in the district tournament. The Cardinals don’t have to travel very far — 26.9 miles to be exact — for the regional tournament, which is a rare occurrence. Veteran head coach Scott Parker will take it though.
“It’s nice to be close to home, that’s for sure,” said Parker. “I expect we’ll travel well Friday night. The nice thing is that we’ve played both of those teams on the other side of the bracket, so there’s familiarity there. Grand Valley (12-8, 6-3 3A WSL) went 1-2 on the year against Coal Ridge (1-1) and Jefferson Academy (0-1), so if the Cardinals can get past No. 11 Resurrection Christian (17-5, 9-1 3A Patriot League) they could set themselves up for a good shot at reaching the state quarterfinals next week.
According to Parker, the Cougars are very similar to his Cardinals in that Resurrection Christian likes to run an up-tempo attack and can shoot the ball well. The similarities between the two teams should make for an entertaining shootout Friday night at Coal Ridge High School.
Roaring Fork (13-8, 7-2 3A WSL) matches up well with the No. 16 St. Mary’s Pirates (17-5, 10-2 3A Tri-Peaks). The Rams had a chance to see the Pirates up close at the Resurrection Christian tournament before Christmas, and also had a chance to watch them in person last season at the Platte Valley regional tournament.
“They’re pretty talented,” said Williams. “They’re a quick team that can shoot the ball real well.”
Williams added that for the Rams to advance to Saturday’s regional championship game against likely No. 1 Lutheran, the Rams will need to take care of the basketball, take care of the ball on offense, and play good team defense against a team that averages 75.7 points per game.
In the girls regional tournament, the Cardinals (16-6, 6-3 3A WSL) have to be tired of traveling to Pagosa Springs at this point. However, Grand Valley gets a strong matchup with No. 19 The Vanguard School Coursers (14-8, 5-5 3A Tri-Peaks) Friday night, according to first-year head coach Ike Pittman.
“We hate going down to Pagosa; it’s such a long trip, but I think we have a pretty decent matchup this year,” said Pittman. “The Vanguard School is pretty big up front, but I think our speed can give them trouble.”
One year after wondering if they’d play in the regional tournament, the No. 23 Rams (11-9, 4-5 3A WSL) were able to breath easy Tuesday during the bracket release as they knew they were into the tournament. The only thing that was up in the air was where they’d play.
Roaring Fork draws a tough matchup with the No. 10 Centauri Falcons (16-6, 6-4 3A Intermountain), but fortunately for the Rams, Centauri played four 3A WSL opponents this year, so there’s plenty of tape to be had.
“We’re just excited to keep playing,” said Bath. “This year has been a little bit different compared to last season. Last year we didn’t know if we’d be playing, but this year we knew. We’ll take this matchup. They played four of our league opponents this year, so we can see how they matched up with teams we’re familiar with and things like that.”
For the Rams to pull off the first-round upset, Bath said Roaring Fork has to show up with confidence right out of the gate and play basketball they way the coaching staff knows that they can.
“If we can all of that, hopefully we’re playing on Saturday when it drops down from 32 to 16 teams.”
Coal Ridge (11-9, 4-5) had to sweat out the bracket release, but for the second time in four years the Titans are into the regional tournament. It won’t be an easy first-round matchup, though, as the Titans take on the No. 5 Eaton Reds (21-1, 10-0 3A Patriot) Friday at 7 p.m.
“They’ve got a big, tall girl and have some speed,” said Morgan. “But I think we match up well with them. We just have to take care of the ball and hit our free throws when we have the opportunity.
“That’s been the struggle for us lately, so if we can correct that I think we match up well with Eaton.”
The 3A district tournament for the boys and girls officially starts Friday with championship games on Saturday. The final eight teams remaining will then advance to the state quarterfinals on the Front Range the following week.