PUEBLO WEST — Normal pregame ritual for the Pueblo West Cyclones is to warn teams of the impending storm that's making its way into Jerry Kersey Gymnasium.
Saturday it should have served as a welf-warning. The Cyclones were hit hard with a couple of early 3-pointers from a Sand Creek team desperate to remain alive in the Class 4A boys basketball tournament.
But as the Cyclones settled in, they showed they have the ability to knock down big shots and take close games as they beat the Scorpions 50-47 to advance to next week's Sweet 16.
"We knew coming in that they were a good team," West coach Ty Trahern said. "They're not a typical 23 seed and in this round anything can happen. They have a lot of different weapons and a lot of different strengths. We came out a little timid and a little scared."
Izaiah Jordan's 3-pointer got Sand Creek's early run going. Before some fans had even made their way to their seats, it was an 8-0 game.
Once the Cyclones (18-6 overall) got shots to fall, they found a bit of consistency. They closed the gap to two before outscoring the Scorpions (16-9) 14-8 in the second quarter to take a 24-22 lead. Those 12 points came on just four field goals, including 3-pointers from Zach Reid and Jimmy Wardle.
But the offense as a whole was paced by point guard Taylor Harris. He finished the game with a team-high 11 points but it was ability to get others involved that proved to be the deciding factor.
"We're at our best when we're pushing the tempo and playing as a team," Harris said. "When we have all five guys running the floor, playing unselfish and knocking down shots, that's when we're scary."
Markus Ramirez set the tone for the Scorpions in the third. He knocked down a couple of big 3-pointers and put his squad up 38-28.
But all Pueblo West had to do was weather it. Wardle hit a couple of big shots to help the Cyclones inch closer and they actually finished the quarter on a 7-0 run.
And in a knock-down drag out fight in the fourth, it was West coming away with the edge. Nick Hanenberg scored a basket then on an immediate Sand Creek turnover, buried a wide open 3-pointer to tie the game and give the Cyclones every bit of momentum they needed.
"That play is actually designed for me to hit someone in the corner or see if someone else can get open," Hanenberg said. "When I had it, there was no one my so I figured I was open, why not shoot it?"
The Cyclones held a three-point with under a minute to go, but the persistence of Sand Creek's defense once again became a factor. A full-court press led to a steal and a wide open 3-pointer that would have tied the game. It smacked off the right side of the rim and the Cyclones held on.
Their Sweet 16 matchup will have a familiar look as Pueblo West traveled to Harrison earlier in the season. A 3-pointer from Wardle at the buzzer gave the Cyclones a big win over the then-No. 2 Panthers.
"Harrison is going to be gunning for us," Harris said. "I'm going to have to get my guys involved and be a team player."