The McClave Cardinals advance to the 1A Boys State Basketball Tournament focused on defending last year’s gold crown and gaining a first-ever B2B title for the boys’ program. Pictured are back row l to r: Cope Meston, Jr. Mungaray, Zack Owens, Connor Forgue, Ethank Bronniman, Gavin Tempel, Ray Mungaray. Front row l to r: Karson Roesch, Mason Barr, Braden Marks, Kolten Smartt, Aydin Gomez, Aiden Martinez.
The McClave boys have made it back to the coveted 1A Boys’ State Basketball Tournament with a good opportunity to defend last year’s state title as they are seeded #3 in the bracket. In their way, however, is a formidable opponent in the Granada Bobcats who is slated to take on McClave in the quarterfinals on Thurs., March 9. This will be the fourth time the two teams have met this season with McClave having the advantage, 2-1. However, there’s a little bit of backstory there.
Despite losing in the District 2 semifinals game and placing third overall in the tournament, McClave was one team that managed to secure a regional host site due to their RPI ranking, a system CHSAA is using to choose the top teams in the state. The Cards were seeded #3 in the regional bracket carrying a 16-5 record into their own tournament. They would blow by Denver Waldorf (#30, 9-12) in the semifinals round on Friday, 75-38, then took on an athletic Dove Creek (#14, 16-7) team in the regional finals, defeating them handily, 73-54.
Against Denver Waldorf the high-octane Cardinals scored 20+ points in the first three quarters before utilizing their bench in the final quarter. It was never a ballgame as the first quarter saw the Cards up 22-3.
Card senior Aiden Martinez had a phenomenal showing with a double-double including 30 points and 14 rebounds on the night. Big man Connor Forgue added 14 points and 5 rebounds and also had 6 steals. Senior Aydin Gomez hit for 9 points, including a three-ball, pulled down 9 boards and had 7 assists.
The next night in the regional championships, the Dove Creek crew came to play as after the first period the score was tied, 15-15. But the Cards used a brutal second quarter where they slapped on the press and turned up their defensive pressure resulting in a 23-3 stanza. That would be the difference in the game, although the feisty Dove Creek group did not go lightly into the night, the Cards managed the win, 73-54, qualifying for their second straight trip to the coveted Big Show.
For the second night in a row, Martinez thrilled the Cardinal fan base with another double-double performance pouring in 24 points and pulling down 15 rebounds. The senior also added 4 assists and 5 steals to his night’s work.
Forgue again had a strong night scoring 17 points, including three triples. Gomez added a double-double of his own, the hard way, scoring 12 points, pulling down 8 rebounds, and dishing out 11 assists to teammates.
And now it is time to face off with their arch nemesis from the High-Plains League in the Granada Bobcats (#6, 15-8). One might wonder what CHSAA was thinking pitting these two exceedingly quality teams, from the same league, together in the first round of the state tournament. They have already played each other three times in the regular season with this meeting on Thurs., March 9 at 10:45 am at the Hancock-Butler Arena on the campus of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley being the fourth time. Each game has been exciting and highly competitive.
The Cards lead the series 2-1 as they got a 55-47 win over Granada in the Lamar Holiday Basketball tournament in December. However, Granada was without one of their top players in sophomore Maddox Coleman who wasn’t able to play until mid-January due to a football injury. McClave beat the Big Green Machine again on January 27th, 66-48, but this time they didn’t have the services of senior shooter and play maker Brandon Gonzales who was healing from a severe illness he suffered over the holidays. The last time McClave and Granada met up was at the District 2 tournament semifinals on February 23rd where Granada, for the first time, had their entire team back and healthy. The Bobcats outlasted McClave 51-44.
One thing McClave has going for them is a dynamite triangle that has recently formed between Martinez, Gomez, and Forgue. Martinez is averaging 17.3 points per game, 9.4 rebounds per game, 3.6 assists per game and 4.2 steals per game. Gomez averages 11.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 4.0 assists per game. Forgue scores 10.7 ppg and pulls down 5.1 boards per game. The big guy can also shoot the long ball.
If McClave continues to play like they did in the regional tournament this game with Granada is a virtual toss-up.