COLORADO SPRINGS - The Woodland Park High School boys basketball team began the new year by winning two of three games. In doing so, the Panthers improved to 5-6 overall, 1-1 in the Class 4A Metro League.
The Panthers’ wins were over Vanguard (47-43 on Jan. 5) and Harrison (47-46 on Jan 12). In each instance, Woodland Park controlled the tempo of the game from the outset and played solid basketball.
“We played four quarters of intense basketball against Harrison,” said first-year Woodland Park coach Joel Herman. “We have to be able to play hard and win those one-point games.”
It’s those 65-point losses that are the tough ones to stomach.
Such was the case on Jan. 10 when the Panthers traveled to Wasson for their league opener and wound up on the short end of 85-20 score.
“They are a good team, for sure,” Woodland Park senior guard Evan lays said of Wasson. “But we let them dictate the pace. We have to take care of the ball to have success, and we didn’t do that tonight.
“We have to work a lot harder and be more prepared the next time we play them.
That next time will be Feb. 2 (Groundhog Day for those who are keeping track) in Woodland Park’s more intimate gym.
Wasson featured a squad that included three players over 6-feet-4. But the tallest of the group - 6-10 Laurenz Stalcup - was not in uniform due to an illness. As it turned out, the Thunderbirds were just fine without him.
Woodland Park’s tallest starter is 6-2 Jacob Censner.
From a Woodland Park perspective, the game wasn’t pretty from the outset as the Thunderbirds built a 16-4 first quarter lead. It went downhill from there as Woodland Park was outscored 23-0 in the second quarter and trailed 39-4 at the break.
Wasson was led by the stellar play point guard DJ Hanes (game-high 19 points and nine rebounds). Four other Thunderbirds finished in double figures in points.
Herman chalked up the loss as a learning experience, but he was visibly upset that Wasson coach Damion Copeland continued to play his starters more than three minutes into the fourth quarter after his team had built a 60-point lead.
“He has no class,” Herman said of Copeland. “You’re up by 50 points and you want to run your starters? That’s just wrong.
“Don’t’ get me wrong. They’re a great team. They know how to play basketball. But my second team can’t match up against his nine or 10 guys.”
Herman elected not to play any of his starters in the fourth quarter. At one point, the Panthers featured a lineup that included freshman team members Matt Cox and Dominic Cunico. Wasson’s biggest lead was 85-18 at the 2:03 mark on a pair of free throws by Marcellus Thomas.
Hanes said it is common practice for the Wasson starters to play deep into games.
“We usually play three to four minutes into the fourth quarter,” said Hanes, who is a Division I football recruit. “If we lay off it cheapens what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Wasson 6-5 senior power forward Gabe Ehrlin scored 12 points, including his first 3-point basket of the season midway through the fourth quarter.
“If we gave (Woodland Park) any sort of confidence, there’s a chance they may come back,” Ehrlin said. “We never stop playing hard. That’s the way we’re coached.”
In addition to being more athletic, taller and skilled, Wasson also has the advantage of four talented senior transfers - Stalcup, 6-4 Kyler Hinton, Monico Morin and Dominic Garcia.
“When you have (four) guys who transfer in that gives you an advantage over a lot of teams,” Herman said.
Herman’s son, Dakota - a 6-2 sophomore swingman - led the Panthers in scoring against Wasson with six points. Herman also played well against Vanguard (eight points) and Harrison (seven).
Censner led the way against Vanguard and Harrison, scoring a team-high 11 and 15 points, respectively. Lays had 13 points against Harrison.
Woodland Park has league games this week on the road at Sierra and home against Widefield.
“If we don’t go .500 in league I’m going to be a little disappointed,” Joel Herman said. “We’re senior strong and I think we can do some things.”
Eight of Woodland Park’s 10 varsity players are seniors. The Panthers’ five victories are one just less than their combined win total from the previous seasons when they were 6-59.