The Eaglecrest and Overland boys basketball teams now don’t have to look very far ahead at the tantalizing prospect of a rematch.
The top-seeded Centennial League powers, who split two meetings during the regular season, worked their way through opposite sides of the Class 5A state tournament bracket to both reach the Final Four at the Coors Events Center in Boulder.
The Raptors and Trailblazers sit poised to force a rubber match in what could be an all-Aurora 5A state title game on March 14, provided both can beat outstanding opponents in ThunderRidge and Denver East, respectively, in semifinals slated for 7 and 8:30 p.m. March 13.
The Continental League claimed bragging rights with five teams left in the Great 8 March 7 at the Denver Coliseum, yet only one advanced in ThunderRidge, while battle-tested Overland and Eaglecrest remained standing.
“They were a little down on us in the Centennial League, but me and John (Eaglecrest coach Olander) are pretty happy with where we are,” Overland coach Danny Fisher said after his team’s 64-36 win over second-seeded Mountain Vista on March 7 at the Denver Coliseum.
“Man, I’d love to see that guy Saturday night (in the championship game),” he added. “That would be awesome. We would go at it.”
With a combined five selections to The Show all-star game — Eaglecrest’s Blend Avdili and brothers Colbey and Elijah Ross and Overland’s De’Ron Davis and Austin Conway — plus other outstanding players on both sides, the teams put on a show every time they take the floor.
Coaches, players and fans at both city schools are eager for a third meeting between the teams, which have split two games in league play in each of the past two seasons and even have identical records at 21-5 going into the Final Four.
The Raptors prevailed in the first meeting 66-54 on Jan. 9 — in a game Davis sat out due to injury — and the Trailblazers countered with a 74-61 win Feb. 4 when they were at full strength.
Eaglecrest’s overtime loss at Cherokee Trail on Feb. 13 was the only other league loss suffered between the teams and ultimately allowed Overland to claim the league championship outright.
There’s no doubt the teams would like to settle the deadlock with one more meeting, with both playing their best and with a state championship at stake.
Conway would gladly play anybody in the final with a chance to bring home Overland’s first state basketball championship, but clearly wants to face the Raptors.
“I’d definitely take Eaglecrest, especially being a conference team and you don’t want to split with anyone, either go 0-2 or 2-0,” Conway said. “If we get to play them, it would be even better, a rematch with a conference opponent and for bragging rights for the rest of your life.
“Whoever wins that one really gets the upper hand.”
It’s the same on the other side, where the Raptors were unhappy with their second game against the Trailblazers, against whom they also split with last season.
“Oh yeah, that’s the game we want; losing for the Centennial League (championship) was tough,” Eaglecrest sophomore Colbey Ross said. “If we play them, it will be a different game.”
For the Raptors and Trailblazers to earn a rubber match they will both have to take down very talented teams.
Overland’s challenge is stopping a surging Denver East team that came into the postseason with a No. 6 seed and has proceded to knock out the No. 1 seed (Regis Jesuit), No. 2 seed (Rangeview) and No. 3 seed (Rock Canyon) on its way to winning the Jim Baggot Region.
Led by senior guard Brian Carey, the Angels have come through consistently in the key moments of games and appear fiercely determined to defend last season’s state championship.
The Trailblazers have the motivation of a semifinal loss to Denver East last season to drive them.
“They beat us last year, so we’re looking for a little payback,” said Davis, who said his team’s biggest obstacle would be containing its excitement for the game through a week of practice.
Fisher also emphasized his team’s key to victory would be limiting the Angels to as many one-shot possessions as possible, which not a lot of teams have been able to do this postseason.
To that end, juniors Padiet Wang and Alijah Halliburton will be vital in helping Davis and Air Force signee Ryan Swan keep players such as Denver East’s Jordan Willis, Samba Dioum and Ben Potts off the boards. Wang and Halliburton were huge in the Great 8 with a combined 15 points and 17 rebounds.
“We have to do our best to limit them to one shot, you don’t want Brian Carey to have two possessions, ever,” said Fisher, who has an outstanding backcourt to try to keep up with Carey in Conway and budding junior Reggie Gibson.
Eaglecrest has a different animal on its hands in ThunderRidge, which revolves around dynamic 6-foot-10 big man Zach Pirog, plus some surrounding big players and guards capable of lighting it up from the perimeter.
But with the Ross brothers —who combined for 42 points in a 64-49 Great 8 win over Legend — plus a lot of veteran savvy, much of it from a run to the 2013 state championship, the Raptors feel good about their chances to make the state championship game.
“They have a really good big man and they can shoot the ball, too,’” Avdili said. “They have good big men who can make moves, they play good solid defense and know when to help and when not to help. We should be fine, but it’s anyone’s chance when you make it here. We’re going to play hard and hopefully get a shot at that state championship.”
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
2015 CLASS 5A BOYS BASKETBALL FINAL FOUR
Semifinals (March 13 at Coors Events Center, Boulder)
EAGLECREST (21-5) vs. ThunderRidge (23-3), 7 p.m.
Denver East (17-10) vs. OVERLAND (21-5), 8:30 p.m.
Championship (March 14 at Coors Events Center, Boulder)
Semifinal winners, 8:30 p.m.
EAGLECREST & OVERLAND AT A GLANCE
Eaglecrest top scorers: Colbey Ross 17.3 ppg; Blend Avdili 16.4 ppg; Elijah Ross 12.3 ppg; Overland top scorers: De’Ron Davis 16.4 ppg; Reggie Gibson 11.0 ppg; Austin Conway 10.7 ppg; Eaglecrest top rebounders: Avdili 7.3 rpg; Nate Bokol 3.2 rpg; Colbey Ross 2.8 rpg; Overland top rebounds: Davis 10.8 rpg; Ryan Swan 5.5 rpg; Padiet Wang 4.0 rpg; Eaglecrest top passers: Elijah Ross 4.6 apg; Colbey Ross 3.8 apg; Avdili 2.1 apg; Overland top passers: Conway 4.5 apg; Gibson 4.5 apg; Wang 2.4 apg