It’s been 30 years since Manitou Springs last made the Colorado boys’ basketball final four and the Mustangs could feel themselves making history, Tuesday in a 65-54 win over No. 12 Colorado Academy.
The fourth-seeded Mustangs made 14 3-pointers in the win after averaging just over five per game through the regular season. In a response to Colorado Academy’s unpredictable defensive schemes, Manitou Springs worked on its outside game heading into the state quarterfinals — and it worked.
“It really paid off,” said Manitou’s Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 17 points, including five 3-pointers. “It seemed like everyone was feeling it today and it was amazing.”
With student section chants bouncing off the echo chamber that is the Mustang gymnasium, Manitou Springs outscored Colorado Academy 23-11 in the first quarter and 20-13 in the third to rack up a 13-point lead heading into the final eight minutes.
But as Manitou’s scouting report predicted — Colorado Academy can be unpredictable. Colorado Academy opened the fourth quarter with a man-to-man press, forcing turnovers and closed the gap quickly with 3-point shots of their own.
Colorado Academy came within three late in the fourth quarter, but the Mustangs stayed patient, and ultimately clinched the win that would lead them back to the gym of their rival — St. Mary’s.
“I think that shows how strong this team is and how we can persevere,” Thomas said.
Manitou Springs will face No. 1 St. Mary’s on Thursday in the 3A semifinals, and will be searching for redemption from its only loss of the season — an intense 83-62 defeat in the final game of the regular season.
“They are our archrival, and to be able to play against them and have a chance to go to the championship is really meaningful,” Thomas said, “and, not to be crass, but we want to kick the (crap) out of them.”
“We are ready to go get our revenge,” said Caleb Allen, who had 12 points and four 3s. “We knew coming in that if we won this game St. Mary’s would probably be next, so we want to go get them.”
While it has been 30 years since Manitou Springs reached the final four, some of the big names remain the same.
Ken Vecchio coached the 1991 Mustangs to the state semifinal, led by former Broncos wide receiver and now-girls' basketball coach Justin Armour.
But now the sons have taken over.
Brian Vecchio holds the reins of the boys’ basketball team, with Ken by his side as an assistant. And Joah Armour, Justin’s son, is helping to lead the Mustangs to a historic run in the 3A playoffs.
“It means a ton (to be in the state semifinals),” Brian Vecchio said. “Not every guy gets to coach with his dad. It’s a special deal for me and I’m super proud of them.”
Joah Armour suffered an ankle injury against St. Mary’s in the final game of the regular season, and the Mustangs feared one of their top players may be unavailable for the playoffs. But the team trainer’s had Armour back on his feet in about four days, Vecchio said.
“He went from barely being able to walk to being able to play in that game. He is a tough kid and definitely makes a difference,” Vecchio said. “He impacts both ends of the floor and when you lose a guy like that that makes a big difference, so we are glad to have him back.”
Armour had five points for the Mustangs on Tuesday. John Maynard came off the bench to score 14 points for Manitou Springs, including nine in the fourth quarter, and Lars Marquardt had eight points.
No. 1 St. Mary’s 82, No. 8 Englewood 54
At St. Mary’s: The Pirates punched their ticket to the Class 3A semifinals with a commanding win over No. 8 Englewood. St. Mary’s outscored Englewood 30-14 in the first quarter, and capped its quarterfinal performance with a 22-7 edge in the fourth.
Senior Luke Stockelman had a double-double to lead St. Mary’s with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Sam Howery also had a double-double with 13 points and 11 assists. Max Howery scored 16 points and John Klein had 13. Andon Mindrup had nine points, eight rebounds and a team-high five steals.
St. Mary’s will face rival Manitou Springs, seeded fourth, in the 3A semifinals on Thursday. The Pirates are responsible for Manitou’s only loss.
No. 4 Mullen 87, No. 5 Falcon 53
At Mullen: Mullen struck fast against Falcon in a 4A quarterfinal matchup, outscoring the No. 5 Falcons 46-28 in the first half on the way to a playoff victory, securing its position in the 4A semifinals.
No. 4 Mullen will take on No. 1 Holy Family in the Final Four on Thursday. Falcon’s season ends with a 15-2 record and a league championship.