League, geographical foes meet again, this time in girls', boys' basketball playoffs

0
Photo - Mesa Ridge's Caleb Stewart (center) is defended by Widefield's Lucas Lacy (left) and Widefield's Daz Rodgers as he goes in for a shot on the basket during the first quarter of a game at Widefield High School on Tuesday, January 10, 2016. JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE
Mesa Ridge's Caleb Stewart (center) is defended by Widefield's Lucas Lacy (left) and Widefield's Daz Rodgers as he goes in for a shot on the basket during the first quarter of a game at Widefield High School on Tuesday, January 10, 2016. JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE

League play in prep basketball wrapped up last weekend.

Or did it? Now, it seems to be back, just in time for the playoffs.

As if the playoff pressure cooker couldn't get any more intense, 12 second-round games in this weekend's 5A and 4A brackets feature the continuation of league rivalries, perhaps none bigger than when No. 16 Mesa Ridge (17-6) hosts crosstown rival and No. 17-seed Widefield (17-7) at 7 p.m. Saturday in 4A boys' action.

"I was part of this when Mesa Ridge was built, and it's always been a game both schools want to win badly," said Widefield coach Mark Munoz, in his third season after earlier serving as Gladiators' coach for 17 years. "We know our opponent. They know us. It's a district rival in the playoffs. It should be hopping."

For the first time, the computerized Ratings Percentage Index determined the top 48 playoff qualifiers in each bracket, as opposed to past years when seeding committees as a group built all matchups. A seeding committee still exists today, but operates mainly to adjust rankings slightly to avoid league matchups in first-round games.

"There is a criteria for the seeding committee, and when that group gets together, we have to stick to it," Doherty athletic director and seeding committee member Chris Noll said. "We can't tinker with second-round games at all. Last year, we had a committee, and they could do a lot of manipulation in the bracket. That's all gone now."

Now that teams are merely numbers in the eyes of the RPI, the fact that certain rivals and league foes fell to the same side of brackets is purely coincidental.

In addition to Widefield-Mesa Ridge boys, girls' 5A second-round action has a rematch of Colorado Springs Metro League schools when No. 7 Doherty (22-1) hosts No. 26 Rampart (11-13) at 7 p.m. Friday.

Also at 7 p.m. Friday, No. 21 Discovery Canyon (16-7) welcomes No. 21 TCA (18-5) in a game featuring schools that, despite never playing in the same league, sit barely 2 miles apart in northern Colorado Springs.

In fact, it takes longer to get from Widefield to Mesa Ridge (a 3.5-mile jaunt, according to Google Maps). But since Mesa Ridge opened in 1997 to split Widefield School District 3 in half, the two programs have locked horns in a spirited rivalry - a parade on a Saturday morning every October always precedes the early-afternoon football kickoff at C.A. Foster Stadium - for city bragging rights.

This time, it's more than just that. One team's playoff journey will go into next week. Another will end.

Dalen Jackson is just grateful for another crosstown clash. The Mesa Ridge senior point guard suffered a scratched cornea in a collision Feb. 1 during second-half action in Widefield and sat helplessly as the Gladiators rallied for a big league win to split the season series.

Mesa Ridge hasn't lost since then.

"I get a chance to play against them one more time," Jackson said. "It's cool to get redemption, since I thought that was my last game against Widefield. Ever since we saw the bracket, this is something we've been talking about. We're all looking forward to it."