Cowboys finish third in 2A Colorado State Basketball Championships

Meeker senior Doak Mantle is pictured making a free throw in the 2A Colorado State Basketball Championships semifinal game, held in the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland. Mantle was a freshman the last time Meeker qualified for the state tournament. The Cowboys lost to the Crowley County Chargers but came back to beat Byers, ending their season on a winning note and returning to Meeker with a third place trophy for the trophy case. Bobby Gutierrez Photo

MEEKER | The senior-dominated Meeker boys’ basketball team, ended its season with a win and a third place, 2A Colorado State Basketball Championship trophy for the high school lobby. The Cowboys qualified for the state tournament this year as District and Region 5 champs and for a second time in this year’s seniors’ career, as the Cowboys last qualified for the state tournament in 2015.

The Cowboys shot well in the opening round of the Elite Eight, scoring 74 points and holding the Highland Huskies to 59, advancing them to the semifinals against the No. 1 seeded Crowley County Chargers.

The Cowboys got behind early against the Chargers and although they fought back and made it close in the final quarter, Meeker lost 47-63, sending them to play the Byers Bulldogs for third place, which they won 51-44.

Meeker seniors Doak Mantle and Logan Hughes both played on the varsity in 2015, when the Cowboys last qualified for the state tournament. Both were instrumental this year as seniors, along with classmates Trapper Merrifield, Zach Dinwiddie, Valentin Rosas and Eli Newman.

“We will miss our seniors,” said Meeker head coach Klark Kindler, who has taken the Cowboys to the state tournament five times, earning a third place trophy twice and a sixth place finish in 2015. “They had a ton of success in all sports they have played. They were great leaders and we had a lot of success this year but it didn’t come easy. We battled through some injuries and just kept getting better as the season wore on.”

The Cowboys took the momentum from the regular season, as well as the playoffs, and used it to score 74 points in the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland during first round of the state tournament, the second most they scored all season.

“A lot of times when you play in the big arenas, you don’t shoot well but we did against Highland,” Coach Kindler said. “We took away a lot of what they liked to do offensively.”

Meeker led 15-12 after the first quarter, then scored 25 in the second to lead 40-26 at halftime. The Huskies outscored the Cowboys 17-12 in the third quarter but the Cowboys scored 22 in the fourth to win by 15.

Mantle led all scorers with 17 points, while Hughes and Dinwiddie each scored 15 and Newman also finished in double figures with 14. Seniors Merrifield and Rosas each added a basket, while juniors Brennan Jensen added four and Stephen Walsh three. Dinwiddie led the team with 13 rebounds.

The Cowboys didn’t shoot well in the semifinals game against the No. 1 seeded Chargers, falling behind by 12 after the first quarter before cutting their lead to eight at halftime. The Cowboys trailed by seven, going into the final quarter, where they pulled to within two but lost by 16.

“We cut the lead to two, then got down by 10 again,” Kindler said of the semifinal game. “We had pulled to within five, with five minutes to go and had the ball but turned it over three straight possessions and couldn’t close the gap after that.”

The Cowboys got a little beat up against the Chargers but all the starters returned for the final game of their high school careers and they ended up finishing on a winning note.

“I was please with the way we played,” coach Kindler said of the final game of the season. “You never know how kids will react after the Friday loss, plus we were beat up but our kids played through it and we beat a very good Byers team.”

Stats were not made available by press time for the final two games but all of Meeker’s underclassmen, including juniors Walsh, Jensen, Kale Burke and Andy Kracht, along with sophomore Cole Rogers and freshman Ryan Phelan, checked in and earned state experience.

“I thought our younger guys also kept getting better and we have a group that is ready to continue our success,” Coach Kindler said. “I look forward to working with them to see what they can become. They know the bar is set high but they are ready to move into their new roles.”