Run-and-gun offense lifts Eagles into 2A regional final
Some players on the Paonia High School girls basketball team say they mirror the Paonia wrestling team, which recently won a Class 2A state championship.
In the sense of toughness, quickness and mental fortitude, the girls just may have some of that grappler grit.
Paonia held on to a pair of double-digit leads in a 64-45 win over Custer County in a Class 2A Region 5 semifinal at Colorado Mesa University on Friday.
Jessica Altman led Paonia (21-1) with 14 points.
Annavah Kropp added 11 for the Eagles, which will play Denver Christian (17-5), which beat Ignacio 35-33, at 11 a.m. today — again at CMU — in the regional championship.
The winner qualifies for state.
Paonia, which utilizes a full court press and a run-and-gun fast-break offense called “The System,” designed by Loyola Marymount head coach Paul Westhead in the late 1980s, let a 17-5 first quarter lead slip away and led by seven points at halftime.
But the Eagles went on a 13-0 run to begin the third quarter.
In wrestling terms, Paonia put Custer County in the cradle. And the Eagles scored a pin midway through the third quarter.
“We’re used to scrambling,” said Paonia guard Chelsy Reed, sister of Paonia state champion wrestler Jesse Reed.
Like the wrestlers, the Paonia girls are tough. Kropp suffered a broken nose last week and returned to score in double digits Friday.
“I was going to play with a face mask,” Kropp said, “but it didn’t work. I couldn’t see.”
Kayla Wingfield on Jan. 7 tore an ACL against Platte Valley. She tried to keep playing. She couldn’t, and instead, on crutches, watched Paonia run and gun right through Crowley County.
“They’re awesome,” Wingfield said.
“We miss (Wingfield),” Altman said,. “She was a big part of what we do.”
But Paonia managed to hold off a couple of Custer County rallies sparked by senior Sierra Geroux, a state champion high jumper.
Geroux, who played point guard, and on numerous occasions dribbled her way through Paonia’s press, led Custer County with 15 points.
“They were definitely different than what we were used to,” Geroux said. “We just had to adjust.”
Paonia had to adjust to Geroux as well.
“We kept hoping she’d wear down,” Paonia coach Scott Rienks said. “And she didn’t. She’s a heck of an athlete.”
Rienks’ goal is to substitute a fresh five every three minutes or so.
“Our second five bailed us out in the second quarter,” Rienks said.
During their 13-0 third quarter run, the announcer three times boomed, “basket by Carson Pipher.” Pipher, of course, is the daughter of Paonia wrestling coach Andy Pipher.
She found herself open for two layups and a jump shot off steals. Her last layup put Paonia ahead 43-23 with 5:42 left in the third quarter.
“We just executed and put out a lot of energy,” Pipher said.
It was, simply, The System in action.
“That’s all you’ve got to say,” Kropp said. “The System.”