State berth at stake for Sailors

— The Steamboat Sailors will take their game downstate Saturday, as they head into Pueblo for a regional showdown that could vault them into the state playoffs.

The Sailors, 20-3, come off a 54-46 win over the Ralston Valley Mustangs at home Wednesday night in the first round of the 4A regional tournament.

Steamboat is ranked No. 14 in the state in the Class 4A division.

The Sailors' game against the Pueblo Central Wildcats, which starts at 6 p.m. at the Colorado State Fair Events Center, will be the final game of the year for one of the two teams.

The winner will advance to the state tourney, which starts March 8 at Pepsi Center in Denver.

The teams that place in the top 8 at the regional tourney qualify for state.

Central defeated Liberty in the first round of regionals, 74-50. The Wildcats, who are the No. 3-ranked team in the state, have won 15 of their past 16 games.

They are led by 6-foot-6, 205-pound center Justin Pershin.

Pershin, who averages 15.3 points per game, 7.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots, says his team anticipates a tough battle inside against the Sailors' post players.

"We know they're about the only team in the state that can match up with our height," Pershin said. "So, we got to get the rebounds."

Rusty Eck and Danny Weber are the Sailors' big men underneath.

Eck is 6-foot-6 and Weber stands 6-foot-5-inches tall.

Steamboat's Alex Mackey, who is a junior, also is 6-foot-5.

The Wildcats have a pair of big men that come off the bench, including Michael Dudley, who is about 6-foot-7, and Jesse Perry, who is 6-foot-5, based on scouting reports provided by Sailors' coach Kelly Meek.

Although Central dropped just one of its last 16 games, Steamboat trumped that winning streak with a streak of its own this season.

"We had a 16-game winning streak this year before Rifle beat us," said Eck, who ended the regular season averaging 8.9 points per game and 6.4 rebounds.

"If we bring it, I'm real confident we can knock them off," he said.

Slowing the Wildcats' offense may be a tall order for the Sailors, but Meek says his players are ready for the challenge.

Central enters the game with an 18-5 record and a five-game winning streak.

Steamboat, which is 4-1 in its last five games, is led by Ryan Kiely and Andrew Johnston, who both average in double figures in scoring. Kiely put up 22 points against Ralston Valley.

Defensively, the entire Steamboat lineup has been able to disturb opposing players throughout the regular season and playoffs.

"We made very few defensive mistakes (Wednesday)," Meek said.

"When we did make mistakes, we paid for them."

Meek says the Wildcats will present a double threat offensively, but he is confident his players can disrupt their game plan.

The Wildcats can nail the long ball and also score a lot of points inside, he said.

A big key defensively, Meek says, is winning the rebound war.

"This team really hits the offensive boards hard," Meek said. "They hurt people real bad there. We got to take that away from them.

"I feel this presents us a great opportunity," he said. "But, I feel we're playing our best basketball right now."

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