MONUMENT — On the basketball court, it's hard to watch Lewis-Palmer and wonder if this team isn't destined for greatness in 2019.
Wednesday night, they firmly planted their flag in the 4A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference standings.
No. 4 Cheyenne Mountain made the 20 drive north to face off against the L-P and went home with its worst loss of the season. The 96-61 win for the Rangers (15-0 overall, 7-0 PPAC) begs the question of how they continue to stay focused and motivated as they move through the rest of league play.
"Obviously that's a lot of my job," coach Bill Benton said. "From day one we've talked about how this needs to be their group. And they understand it. At practice guys are competing and holding each other accountable. We just got done talking about the next go around and what the second round of these (league) games will look like. I'm very aware of it and I talk about it a lot. And they're aware of it."
Early turnovers from Cheyenne Mountain (12-3, 4-2) resulted in a 6-0 run to start the game. And the Rangers didn't go through their leading scorer until later. Noah Bach and Ethan Forrester each scored eight points in the quarter for L-P and Joel Scott didn't connect on a field goal until there was two minutes and one second left in that quarter.
"We all have our defensive assignments and play our roles and help each other out," Baca said. "It's easier for me too when they're in deny and I can get ball pressure."
Perhaps what was more essential for the Rangers however, was the lack of scoring from Cheyenne Mountain's star guard Javonte Johnson. The junior didn't get in the scorebook until he connected on a free throw with 5:08 left in the first half. He didn't make a field goal until there was less than three minutes remaining in the second. The Rangers went into halftime with a 45-23 lead and appeared to have the Indians overwhelmed.
"We haven't played a team of this caliber and we came out and panicked a bit," Cheyenne Moutnain coach Elgin Fitzgerald said. "We probably weren't ready for what was about to hit us."
A second-half player in several games this year, Johnson came out firing in the third quarter where he scored 11 of his team-high 15 points. The idea of shutting him down completely was entertaining, but Scott saw firsthand that Johnson is every bit the player that he's been made out to be.
"It was fun," Scott said. "I just had to come out and play against a good player. He's going to be something special eventually. But it was just fun. I knew it was going to be a tough match up so I just tried to lock him down as much as I could and he made some tough shots."
So did Scott. He led all scorers with 24 points. Forrester had 21, Baca added 18 and Ragsdale scored a quiet 15 putting four of five starters for L-P in double figures.
But it's the defensive mentality that has helped Benton keep his team motivated and pushing each other every day. More often than not, every postgame question directed at L-P is answered with praise for the defense.
And a game like Wednesday's rolls around where an elite scorer is walking into their own gym, it seems like each member of that L-P roster is itching to be the one to take that defensive assignment.
"They love it," Benton said. "That's what we're built off of. There are times when we talk about matchups and lineups, everybody wants that play drawn up for them. This group at times argues that 'I should guard the best guy. Why don't I get that.' You look at that and realize you have a special group because they want that challenge."
L-P is now tasked with going through the league slate for the second time this year. In between, they have a showdown with Doherty. The rematch with Cheyenne Mountain is slated for Feb. 14 and with the magnitude of the matchup now behind them, the Indians will certainly look to be the challenger to the Rangers that many thought they would be.
After getting double-digit wins over 5A's best and now the best the PPAC can throw at them, the Rangers are looking forward to diving into the postseason. But there's no getting ahead of themselves. They know there is still work to do and they're looking forward to each opportunity to get better.
"We have a lot of confidence," Scott said. "But we also have to take it one game at a time and not get too far ahead of ourselves and just be humble about what we're doing."