Woodland Park hosted Discovery Canyon in its home opener Friday and fell 62-52 in front of supportive Panthers crowd.
Senior guard Skye Ciccarelli scored a game-high 22 points to lead the Panthers. Junior long-range specialist Michael Eiselein added nine and sophomore Caleb Bodin added eight in his final game as a Panther.
The Panthers led just once, 3-2, less than 40 seconds into the game after Ciccarelli drained a long-range 3-pointer. The defending Class 3A state high jump champion has scored more than 1,200 points during his prep career.
“I didn’t even look at the score tonight,” Ciccarelli said. “I was just playing hard. We were all playing hard. Sharing the ball and trying to make something happen. Everybody got points.”
The Thunder stayed in a 3-2 zone defense most of the game, trying to force the height-disadvantaged Panthers into shooting over them. Zack Anderson, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, made his presence known in a big way on two occasions in the fourth quarter. He slammed home an alley-oop pass with authority at the 7:10 mark to put Discovery Canyon on top 47-33. With 3:25 to play, he received a technical foul after shoving Woodland Park 6-foot junior guard Joey Babin to the floor after the two had a verbal altercation. Babin also received a technical foul.
Anderson was fouled hard while going up for a shot under the basket by Chris Riley prior to the altercation with Babin.
“They were bringing the energy so we had to bring it right back,” Anderson said of the heated exchange. “That’s all I was doing.”
Babin said he just standing up for his teammate.
“You gotta protect your brothers and I just stepped in,” said Babin, who finished with four points before fouling out with about a minute remaining. “I just pushed him and he pushed me back.”
The Thunder upped its lead to 16 points (51-35) in the fourth, but Woodland Park chipped away, pulling within eight points (53-45) with 3:40 remaining on an Eiselein 3-pointer. “I’m here to hit big-time shots,” Eiselein said. “If it’s there I shoot the ball.”
The game with Discovery Canyon was a bit of a homecoming for Woodland Park coach John Paul Geniesse. He coached the Thunder for six seasons. He actually started the program from scratch in 2007.
“There’s emotion in every game,” Geniesse said. “I want to beat Discovery Canyon, just like I want to beat Mesa Ridge, Sierra. When you coach against a school you led for six years and had success with, you want to continue to win. Whether it’s them or anyone else you have a passion for competing.”
The Panthers stayed surprisingly close to Discovery Canyon despite shooting 6-for-27 from 3-point range and committing 24 turnovers.
The Panthers (0-2) begin Steamboat Springs Tournament Thursday and will play Colorado Academy in the opener.
“We have 21 games to go,” Eiselein said. “We’re not even fazed right now. We want to play tougher teams. It serves no benefit for us to play lower-level teams and blow them out by 60. Playing tougher teams is only going to make us better.”