LONGMONT — After back-to-back seasons with 20 or more wins, the Silver Creek boys basketball team was bound to, at some point, have a predictable drop-off that comes with the cyclical nature of high school sports.
But the Raptors have an impressive track record of qualifying for the postseason and this year's group wasn't about let a little thing like graduation come between them and continuing that trend.
The Raptors were two games below .500 through 16 games but won five of their final seven regular-season games to reach the state tournament for what is now the 14th time in the last 15 years. As the No. 32 seed in Class 4A, the Raptors saw their run come to an end in the first round of the state playoffs with a 62-48 home loss to No. 33 Ponderosa on Wednesday night.
Maybe it took the Raptors a while to find their identity this winter. But at the end, they were right back where they belong — in the playoffs.
"I was really pleased with their effort all season long," Raptors head coach Bob Banning said. "Even this game was in question with a few minutes to go. We really played well in the second half of the season and went on a nice little run to get us momentum. Every bunch is different and think this bunch may have felt the pressure after the last couple years but I was extremely proud of the way we fought to get into the postseason."
Nick Eaton certainly made the most of his final game at Silver Creek.
The Raptors (12-12) senior attacked the basket with reckless abandon all of Wednesday night's game and scored a game-high 23 points. Eaton (14.3 ppg) scored 13 points in the second half and at one point in the fourth quarter, he cut the Ponderosa (11-13) lead to single digits with a steal and a behind-the-back pass to teammate Charlie Belcher (12.8 ppg) for a layup.
The Mustangs' first-half blitz, accompanied by their trademark defense and rebounding that held 23 regular-season opponents to an average of 49.8 points per game, was just too much for the Raptors to overcome late in the game.
With starting point guard Andrew Duquette (15.8 ppg) sitting out the first half after receiving a technical foul in the Raptors' regular-season finale against Thompson Valley, the Raptors did their best to weather the storm through the first two quarters. The visiting Mustangs, however, hit six 3-pointers in the first half and led 28-19 at halftime.
The Mustangs' lead ballooned to 17 points at the midway point of the third quarter. The Raptors cut the lead to as few as nine points in the fourth quarter and trailed by 10 with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game. But after that, Eaton fouled out while the Mustangs went 6 for 8 at the free-throw line and stole an easy layup with a long inbounds pass, preventing any Raptors comeback.
"We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole in the first half," Banning said. "I think we kind of found ourselves as far as our defensive intensity in the second half. It was two pretty evenly-matched teams but they hit some crucial free throws when we started to get closer."
Ponderosa moves on to face No. 1 Lewis-Palmer (23-0) — and unbeaten juggernaut whose average margin of victory during the regular season was 27.1 points — on Saturday.
Ponderosa 62, Silver Creek 48
At Silver Creek H.S.
Cook 4 0-0 10, Bille 2 3-6 9, Babb 4 1-2 10, McDevitt 6 2-3 15, Barker 0 4-6 4, Jones 4 4-7 12, Jones 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 14-24 62.
SILVER CREEK (12-12)
Belcher 3 0-0 7, Eaton 7 7-11 23, Rich 2 4-6 8, Duquette 0 2-4 2, Garcia 3 0-0 8, Hills 0 0-0 0, Ordway 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Scott 0 0-0 0, Oster 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 13-21 48.
Score by quarters:Ponderosa 16 12 14 20 — 62
Silver Creek 7 12 11 18 — 48
3-point field goals — Ponderosa (6): Cook 2, Bille 2, Babb, McDevitt; Silver Creek (5): Eaton 2, Garcia 2, Belcher. Total fouls — Ponderosa 18, Silver Creek 22. Fouled out — Eaton.