MONUMENT — From his view on the bench for five games, Matthew Ragsdale watched Lewis-Palmer boys basketball act like the top team in the state.
They've won handedly against several good Class 4A programs this year and edged out a win over 5A's Liberty last week.
That's why he was excited to be involved in the Rangers 78-50 win over Pueblo East on Thursday. The senior guard was confined to the bench at the start of the year because of a lower leg injury. But on Thursday he made his debut against an always talented and physical team in the Eagles.
"I was just anxious to get out on the floor," Ragsdale said. "I felt really good during warmups. I had a lot of nerves before the game."
His performance was far from the deciding factor of the game, but it's a sign that for the 4A No. 1 Rangers (6-0 overall), things are going to continue to get better.
"It was very good to see him come back," coach Bill Benton said. "You always want all your guys. We didn't have two guys tonight. We haven't played a game all year with 12 guys on our varsity so on that point, yeah it's been good. It's been different guys stepping up every night and that's a huge piece."
The teams played nearly even through the first quarter, but it was Ethan Forrester who sparked L-P to a little run to grab a six-point lead after the first eight minutes.
And then the fortunes for each team went in drastically different directions. Forrester scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the first half. Kain Medrano and Joe Padula got into foul trouble and had to come out of the game.
And the Rangers just started building on their lead.
"It's just a confidence thing," Forrester said. "Once one of us gets going, everyone gets going and we build off each other and we started rolling early."
With Forrester providing the bulk of the offense, fellow senior Joel Scott played more of a supporting role offensively by adding 16 points. Eddie Speller also worked his way into double figures, finishing with 11.
Benton was quick to point out that it's never really one play call or defensive set that gets his team into a rhythm, but rather trust.
"We trusted in our system," Benton said. "We trusted in each other. That's something we talked about. We knew they were a very physical team and we knew they were an athletic team. They are going to try and take you out of what you do. We have to trust what we do, knowing it will work and stay with it."
Darnell Kindred tried to help the Eagles (5-5) keep pace, but overall the offense struggled with Medrano on the bench. Kindred scored all six of East's points in the second quarter and once Medrano came back on the floor in the second half the Eagles looked more comfortable.
Medrano led all East scorers with 14. Kindred had 12 - eight of which came in the first half - and Marvin London Jr. added 10.
Ragsdale finished the night with just four points, the first of which came just over two minutes into the fourth quarter. He had one early look at a 3-pointer, but knows that he can't simply walk onto the floor and find his shot right away.
"Once the first one goes down, it helps confidence wise," Ragsdale said. "With that shot in the corner I had no legs and it was the first 3 I've shot all year so it was a little flat."
Even with some players out, the Rangers have looked like a sound team which helps keep their spirits high.
"We're having fun," Forrester said. "I'd say we're in mid-season form and we're playing well together."
And they have every intention of having fun all year, right up until the time they plan on returning to the state tournament at the Denver Coliseum
"It's easier that way," Forrester added. "Once everyone is working together it just comes naturally."