The Peyton boys’ basketball program wants to exorcise some demons this weekend.
Four years removed from the best team in school history – a team which let a late lead slip away in the final minute of the 3A state championship game in 2009 – this new crop of Panthers is trying to do what no other Peyton team has done before: win a state title.
“It would mean a lot to this community because they always support our athletics programs, especially basketball,” said Peyton coach Brian Green, the architect of what has become a powerhouse program on the plains. “In conversations with members of the community, it always comes back to that 2009 title game."
The 2009 team lost to Faith Christian, 64-62, on a basket that went through the hoop as time expired. It was a devastating loss for the entire community, but especially for Green and his son, Bret, who was the star of that team.
Ironically, Peyton will start its march toward the 2013 2A state title exactly four years to the day of that near-miss of the school’s first state championship.
Leading the way for the Panthers is a talented senior duo. Guard Ethan Abello – a starter since he was a freshman – is averaging more than 20 points. Jared Watkins, Abello’s backcourt mate, is averaging 15 points and five rebounds.
The pair has been terrorizing the 2A Black Forest League for four years, and now they hope to do the same in Pueblo this weekend – where they are the top-seeded team.
“It doesn’t get any better than being the top seed and playing for the title; it’s a picture-perfect scenario for us,” said Abello, who has heard plenty about the 2009 team this season. “Quite frankly, I think we’re all tired of coach talking about it. We want to be the team that wins the school’s first title and the team people are talking about four years from now.”
Watkins – whose brother Mitchell was a sophomore on the 2009 team – said that hearing about how great the 2009 team has driven this team to be better. After falling short at state two years ago and not making it last year, Watkins is ready for a title run.
“We have an experienced team that has been through this before, and we know what the emotions of the state tournament are like,” he said. “We have quite a bit of support and I expect the house to be packed in Pueblo for us this week. We want to make history.”
Green said this team has a lot of the same qualities as the 2009 squad, including the talent to light up the scoreboard and that both teams peaked at the right time.
“We’re playing our best ball of the year right now,” Green said. “I hope that each team in the past has learned from the one before it, and now we can put it all together.”
So before Peyton (22-2) takes the floor against No. 8 Sierra Grande (18-5) at 7 p.m. Thursday at CSU-Pueblo, the question begs, which Peyton team would win in a battle of eras?
“I don’t want to mess with our mojo right now, so I’ll say we would take the 2009 team,” said Watkins, whose team is riding a 20-game winning streak.
Green remained diplomatic, saying “the team with the ball last” would win.
One thing is certain, the 2009 team – and the entire town – will be rooting for a state title starting Thursday night.