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Conifer boys basketball in reach of conference title repeat

LAKEWOOD — Conifer’s boys basketball team has worked its way into a familiar position.

The Lobos (13-5, 5-0 in Class 4A/3A Colorado 8 League) are two conference victories away from winning a league title for the second straight year.

“The goal is to win out and win the league,” Conifer senior Landon Wallace said. “We want those back-to-back league championships and bring those back to the school. Then come into the state tournament with some momentum.”

Conifer senior Landon Wallace, right, is driving the Lobos' charge to back-to-back Colorado 8 League titles. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

A 63-37 road win over Alameda International on Thursday night sets up Conifer with two huge games next week that will decide the conference champion. The Lobos are at Fort Lupton (11-3, 5-0) on Tuesday, Feb. 11, and host Weld Central (12-6, 4-1) on Thursday, Feb. 13, to wrap up league play.

“That would be our goal no matter what league we are in,” Conifer coach Eric Valerio said about finishing off this 4-year run in the Colorado 8 League before the Lobos return to the 4A Jeffco League for the 2020-21 season.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Conifer against Alameda, who will also return to the 4A Jeffco League next season. The Pirates (1-17, 0-5) stayed within striking distance for the majority of the game.

Sophomore Justin Le scored a team-high 13 points for Alameda. The Pirates trailed 26-23 at halftime.

“The second quarter we just got sloppy and kind of slow,” Wallace said. “At halftime we just all got together and focused on what we needed to get done. In the second half there was a lot more intensity and the energy was a lot higher.”

Wallace is nearly averaging a double-double this season in points and assists. The senior captain is someone who Valerio relies on a lot and it was no different Thursday night.

“When you have great leaders and a senior point guard (Wallace) that is a four-year starter, he set the tone at halftime. I didn’t have to say much,” Valerio said. “I proud of the way they responded. We’ve got to find a way to play 32 minutes if we want to be an elite level team.”

Conifer sophomore Ben Lack (5) looks to make a pass around the leaping Alameda junior Chris Ayala during the Colorado 8 League game Thursday night at Alameda International High School. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Conifer put the game away in the fourth quarter outscoring Alameda 24-4. Seniors Ocean Hageman, Elijah Cook and Wallace combined for 48 points in the Lobos’ 5th straight victory.

“We had a good talk in the locker room about playing as a team and coming together,” said Hageman, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “I think we really executed.”

Heading down the final stretch, Conifer will have experience on its side — both good and bad. While the Lobos captured a conference title and went into the 4A state tournament last season as the No. 24 seed and on an 8-game winning streak, Conifer was bounced out of the playoffs in the opening round.

“We were really upset about that,” Wallace said reflecting on the 57-53 home loss in the opening round of the 4A state tournament last year to Eagle Valley.

Conifer did get a measure of revenge against Eagle Valley earlier this season. The Lobos defeated the Devils by 40 points in the championship game at the Steamboat Springs Tournament back in mid-December.

That season-ending loss definitely gave this year’s squad some motivation.

“After that (playoff) loss we kind of build this grit in us about working hard in the off-season together,” Hageman said. “We want to push and achieve more this year. We are ready for it.”

Conifer senior Elijah Cook (3) and Alameda junior Isaac Adams battle for a loose ball Thursday night. The Lobos took a 63-37 victory on the road. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)