Tribe seeking first state berth since ’13
Home is where one will find the Yuma High School boys basketball team as it plays for its first regional championship since 2013.
The Indians are the second overall seed in the Class 2A 32-team regional, sporting a 20-2 record after claiming its first District 2 title since 2011, last weekend at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. They welcome 31st-seed Swallows Charter Academy, 15th-seed Evangelical Christian Academy and 16th-seed Dawson School to The Pit for Region 2, Friday and Saturday.
It is a field that features three teams coming off wins – Yuma winning District 2, and Swallows Charter and Dawson each taking third in their districts, and a district runner-up in Evangelical Christian, which lost to Ellicott in the District 8 final.
However, only one team will be on its homecourt.
“It’s a good position to be in,” Yuma coach Dave Sheffield said.
Evangelical Christian and Dawson School will face off at 4 p.m. Friday. Evangelical Christian is 16-6, while Dawson is 12-10. Yuma never has played ECA, but has opened each of the past two seasons with wins over Dawson in the Canine Classic at Highland High School.
Yuma will take the court at 7 p.m. to take on Swallows Charter, a relatively new school located in Pueblo West.
Friday’s winners will meet at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the winner advancing to the 2A Great 8 next Thursday though Saturday at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland.
Swallows Charter brings a 10-12 record to Yuma, knocking off Rocky Ford in overtime last Friday in the District 6 third-place game. J. Roberts leads the Spartans averaging 12. 6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
“This is the first time Swallows has been out of the first round of district,” Sheffield said. “They’ve been improving all year, looking at their scores and whatnot.”
It is the Yuma boys first regional since dropping a Sweet 16 game to Resurrection Christian in 2015. This will be the first regional for all of the current Yuma players, but Sheffield said he expects the Indians will be up to the moment.
“With what we went through in districts, I don’t think there will be any deer in the headlights moments,” he said.
On the other side of the bracket are a pair of challenging teams in ECA and Dawson. Sheffield said the coaches will prepare for the whole weekend, but the focus has to be on Friday’s opponent.
“Right now we just worry about getting past Swallows,” he said. “You take a night off now, you’re going to get beat.”
The Indians definitely didn’t take off any time while on their way to winning the District 2 title, last weekend.
Following the quarterfinal win over Wiggins earlier last week (see last week’s edition), the Tribe headed to Sterling on Friday for a semifinal against fourth-seed Akron.
The Indians endured a slow start, but two 3-pointers by Connor Hixon helped Yuma to a 15-10 lead. However, Akron kept draining enough treys from deep to stick close, trailing 31-25 late in the second quarter.
Yuma made defensive adjustments at halftime, and put the game away in the third with a 19-4 scoring advantage.
“We took away their 3-ball in the third,” Sheffield said. “That’s where their strength is.”
While shutting down Akron’s outside game, the Indians kept scoring as they carried a 53-31 lead into the fourth. All the starters were on the bench by the midway point of the fourth as the Tribe cruised to a 65-43 win.
It was the boys program’s first district semifinal win since 2011, and first district win of any kind at NJC since taking the third-place game in 2013 — despite being a two and one seed in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Yuma had one of its best shooting games from behind the arc, making 7 of 17 3-pointers (41.2 percent) while shooting 48 percent overall. Akron made 7 of 20 treys and shot 34 percent overall. The Indians kept its turnovers to 11, while Akron committed 20. Yuma had 15 steals and 15 assists, and outrebounded the Rams 31-25.
Hixon made four of his five 3-point attempts, finishing with 14 points, five rebounds and four assists, Jake Chrisman 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists, Victor Mendoza 11 points and three rebounds, Steven Wells eight points and two rebounds, Diego Covarrubias six points and three assists, Rolando Caraveo five points and four rebounds, Chase McCreath three points, Bryan Mendez two points and two steals, Chadron Coffield two points, three rebounds and three steals, and Jonathan Rascon two points.
Sedgwick County held off Haxtun in the other semifinal, setting up a district final between the top two seeds. The Cougars have had a lot of success in recent years, including a state runner-up to Holyoke last year, and had only two losses in the regular season, though one came against Yuma in league play.
The Cougars were not about to roll over for the Tribe, Saturday night. Both teams came out playing physical, lock-down defense, with neither being able to gain any separation. Caraveo’s trey at the buzzer gave Yuma an 11-9 lead after the first, but the game stayed tight with Yuma clinging to a 20-19 lead at halftime.
There was even less scoring in the third. Sedgwick County took a 25-22 lead, but Chrisman’s old-school 3-point play left the teams tied heading into the fourth.
Sedgwick County took a 30-27 lead on five straight points from Brennan Ehmke. However, the Indians then started taking control, getting the ball inside to Chrisman on back-to-back possessions, and an “and one” on a sweet take to the basket by Covarrubias put Yuma up 36-30 with 3 minutes left. A nice baseline drive by Caraveo kept Yuma ahead. The Indians made only one of five free throws, but Hixon made two with 30 seconds left for a 41-34 lead
The Indians held on from there for a 44-39 win.
“We showed a lot of resilience after falling behind in the fourth,” Sheffield said. “I thought they did a real good job closing the game. We need to make more free throws, but they didn’t shoot any at all.”
And he is not just referring to the game’s final moments. Sedgwick County did not attempt a single free throw the entire game as Yuma was whistled for just 10 fouls, compared to 21 for the Cougars. Yuma made 14 of its 24 attempts at the charity stripe.
That was key as Sedgwick County attempted 19 more shots than Yuma, but the Indians shot 50 percent while the Cougars were at 38 percent. The Indians had an uncharacteristically high 21 turnovers, seven more than the Cougars, and were beat in the steals category 14-10, a rarity this season. Yuma did hold an advantage on the boards.
“Our offensive movement increased throughout the game,” Sheffield said. “We had way too many turnovers. Some of them were atypical to what we’ve been doing the last month. We battled real well on the boards.”
Chrisman had 11 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks, Hixon 11 points and five rebounds, Mendoza nine points, three assists and three steals, Covarrubias eight points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals, and Caraveo five points.