Panthers drop Hayden; advance to regional

RANGELY — The question of which Panther team will show up continued at the 2A district tournament last weekend in Meeker.
And both made an appearance.
Thankfully, the “good” Panther team turned out for Rangely’s second game last Saturday against familiar foe Hayden. The Panthers beat Hayden for the third time in four meetings this season, 63-56, to finish third at districts and advance to this weekend’s regional tournament at Grand Junction.
“I was actually quite pleased,” Rangely Coach Mark Skelton said of his team’s performance against Hayden.
Which was just the opposite of what Skelton thought of his team’s outing the previous night, an 84-50 drubbing by host team Meeker.
“That wasn’t even a game,” Skelton said. “We just didn’t even show up. I can’t even give you an answer of what happened.”
Meeker jumped out to an early big lead, 26-9, after the first quarter, and Rangely never recovered.
“I thought we were better than that, but that night we weren’t that good,” Skelton said. “It was just one of those games. We didn’t even look at the video of it. We just got ready for the next game.”
The Panthers were able to put the previous night’s game behind them, and went out and beat Hayden. Again.
“I don’t like to play any team four times,” Skelton said. “I’d rather play someone you don’t know anything about. They (Hayden) are very equal to us. Each game could have gone either way.”
Skelton was pleased with the way his team bounced back in the second game of districts, with a No. 3 regional-tournament seed on the line.
“The night before we got absolutely blown out, and sometimes when that happens you tuck your tail between your legs, but we didn’t do that,” Skelton said. “In moments, we played much better.”
Patrick Phelan led the way for the Panthers with a game-high 29 points, including five 3-pointers, and Kanden Brady reached double figures with 12 points.
The victory put the Panthers, 14-8, in the one-and-done Region 5 tournament, where they will play Custer County in the first round at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
“We know very little about them,” Skelton said. “We just know they won their league, but got upset in their district. So, I guess they are beatable.”
All four teams advanced out of each district, and Skelton was happy the Panthers wouldn’t have to travel to Durango or Denver, where the Nos. 2 and 4 teams are headed.
“We knew we were going to go somewhere, and wherever you go you will see top-caliber teams, but staying close to home, that will be nice for our fans to come down,” Skelton said.
The up-and-down pattern, which has been Rangely’s trademark this season, has Skelton concerned, but he knows his team is capable.
“It’s been that way the whole season,” Skelton said. “This team, sometimes they show up, and sometimes they don’t. Meeker was a perfect example of that.”
The Rangely coach doesn’t know which Panther team will show up at regionals, but he’s hoping it will be the one that beat Hayden.
“It’s that time, one step before state, where, if you don’t bring two A games in a row, you don’t deserve to go,” Skelton said. “With our kids, it’s not their ability; it’s in their head. But if they show up and play as a team, we’re as good as many of the teams in the state.”