LOVELAND -- The Cheyenne Wells boys basketball team had a day of firsts on Thursday at the Budweiser Events Center. Coach Matt Roberts had never experienced the state tournament. His players had never been on this stage, either.
The Tigers understandably experienced some early jitters in a sloppy 9-5 first quarter lead, but settled down and seniors Matt Sanders and Dalton Renner took over in a 52-44 victory over No. 6-seeded Norwood in the Class 1A Great 8.
Cheyenne Wells, the No. 3 seed, held a 22-17 halftime lead as Sanders, an ultra-competitive guard, had 12 first-half points.
Norwood’s Morgan Rummel, a dynamite scorer, tallied 24 points and Cheyenne Wells struggled a bit with turnovers, but the Tigers’ firepower led to a 38-24 lead headed into the fourth. Cheyenne Wells sealed their final four appearance with poise at the charity stripe.
“It feels great. I’ve never been to state as a coach and none of our players have,” Roberts said after the win. “We were pretty nervous coming in. We got this first one under our belts.”
Sanders (23 points) and Renner (16 points) combined for 39 big ones as Sanders was effective slashing throughout.
“Matt has to be one of the top two or three players in the state,” Roberts said about his leader. “He’s averaging over 20 a game, six rebounds, six assists, and shooting over 50 percent. He’s our team leader and sets the pace for everything.”
“I’m a leader on my team and so I try to come through when they need me,” Sanders said. “We’ve been working hard all year. My whole team came through tonight. Everybody made big plays.”
Renner was a difficult matchup for the Mavericks with his size, 6-foot-4, athleticism, displaying quickness and leaping ability, and length. He had six blocks Thursday.
“Dalton actually wrestled last year,” Roberts said. “He’s doing a good job, averaging about 15 and 10 rebounds. (Sanders and Renner) are the heart and soul of this team.”
Norwood will play Vail Christian in a consolation game Friday morning. Cheyenne Wells, 18-6 this season, will play No. 2-seeded Hi-Plains on Friday evening in the semifinals.
“We play them every year in the regular season and it always comes down to the wire,” Roberts said about the Final Four showdown. “It should be a good game. I think both groups will look forward to it.”
Hi-Plains 69, Vail Christian 54
Hi-Plains opened with a 23-7 first quarter as 6-foot-4 Avery Marzolf scored 13. The Patriots cruised from there on, winning their 18th out of the past 19 games and clinching a spot in the semifinals against Cheyenne Wells.
Marzolf finished with 24 points as Justin Miltenberger chipped in 15. Hi-Plains is now 21-2 this season. Game time is set for 5:30 on Friday evening against Cheyenne Wells.
McClave 50, Holly 37
A slow starting game, Holly led 21-20 at halftime, but the Cardinals took control with a 30-16 second half outburst as Taylor Geisinger went for 24 points and Gabe Longworth contributed 14.
McClave will hope to upset the No. 1-seeded Caliche Buffaloes in the final four on Friday evening at 8:30 p.m.
Caliche 70, Fleming 29
The Buffaloes were equally as dominant as their girls team in the quarterfinals with a 70-29 thumping of Fleming as Caliche never trailed.
Caliche boys have claimed seven state titles in the school’s history. They had a four consecutive title streak snapped last year as McClave won the crown.
The Buffaloes will face McClave at 8:30 p.m. on Friday evening in the 1A game of the night.