LAFAYETTE — One winter ago, Centaurus was the 48th and final team name that mercifully finalized Colorado's Class 4A boys basketball state tournament bracket.
The Warriors were happy. Following nearly a decade of futility, they needed that. But then, Centaurus went on to fall four points short of the Sweet 16, which bespoke a potential breakthrough for the Warriors.
The 2018-19 boys have made good on that promise.
This winter's campaign has gone well enough that when the postseason begins next Wednesday, the Warriors should stand among the top-tier teams their former brethren of bright-eyed hopefuls will be looking up at. Having won just four games two seasons ago, the Warriors have transitioned from envious to enviable in a remarkably short period of time.
Centaurus entered the final week of the regular season clutching the ninth spot in the 4A RPI standings and with a great shot to earn a first-round bye, as well as the right to host a playoff game for the first time since 2010. A 66-54 home victory over Niwot on Monday night made the Warriors' long-desired outcome even more likely.
"It's something this program hasn't had in a while so it's exciting," Warriors senior Nick Vaver said. "With three games this week, we needed to come out strong tonight and get some momentum going into the postseason. We definitely didn't play our best, but we did what we needed to get it done. We're all looking forward to the opportunity to go and make some noise so we're focused on not having any lapses or anything that hinders our movement towards the playoffs."
Ranked No. 10 in Class 4A by the latest CHSAANow.com poll, the Warriors (14-7, 9-3) have had their hindrances this season. But their seven losses — No. 1 Lewis-Palmer, Discovery Canyon, No. 4 Holy Family (by three points), Pueblo South ( in overtime), No. 2 Longmont (twice) and Silver Creek — have all come against quality opponents.
The Northern League rival Niwot Cougars (8-14, 2-11) threatened to post another mark on the Warriors' record with just one week left in the season.
After one quarter at Centaurus, the host Warriors led just 21-17. The Cougars remained within a handful of points throughout the second quarter and were down 33-29 at halftime. But in the second half, Centaurus pulled further ahead and led by as many as 17 points on the way to a 12-point win.
"They've got good players, they've got size and they've got Tommy Bounds, who can stretch the floor," Centaurus head coach Travis Maron said. "We couldn't keep them off the offensive glass and they play hard. You have to give them credit because they're a really tough team and they've had a lot of really close games that just haven't gone their way."
In the teams' first conference meeting on Jan. 18, Centaurus senior Nate Totel scored 29 points and Centaurus won 69-47. In the conference rematch, it was Warriors junior Owen Koonce (19.1 ppg) who led the day with 27 points.
Bounds, the Niwot senior who entered Monday's game averaging 16.6 points and shooting 37 percent from 3-point range, led the Cougars with 22 points.
Mirroring the Warriors' position a year ago, the Niwot boys find themselves fighting for a spot in the postseason field. They entered Monday's game No. 46 in the RPI standings and separated from the other bubble teams by mere hundredths of a point.
The Cougars have now lost four games in a row. On the season, the Cougars have also lost five games either by fewer than four points or in overtime. The loss set up a big season finale for Niwot, who will travel to face Mountain View (9-12, 6-6) on Wednesday.
Centaurus will travel to face Northridge on Wednesday.
Centaurus 66, Niwot 54
At Centaurus H.S.
NIWOT (8-14, 2-11)
Ostwald 3 0-1 6, Bounds 9 1-1 22, Chong 1 3-4 5, Erikson 0 0-0 0, Sheldon 2 0-1 4, Reeves 0 2-2 2, Rathburn 4 1-3 9, Luthens 3 0-2 6. Totals 22 7-14 54.
CENTAURUS (14-7, 9-3)
Sugianto 2 0-0 4, Rubin 0 1-4 1, Godard 1 0-0 2, Vaver 6 1-2 14, Koonce 10 7-10 27, Miles 0 0-0 0, Lynch 1 0-0 2, Swain 0 0-0 0, Totel 8 0-1 16. Totals 28 9-17 66.
Score by quarters:Niwot 17 12 10 15 — 54
3-point field goals — Niwot (3): Bounds 3; Centaurus (1): Vaver. Total fouls — Niwot 18, Centaurus 18. Fouled out — Ostwald. Technical fouls — Ostwald.