Sierra, Lewis-Palmer boys' basketball programs renew playoff rivalry

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Russ McKinstry is 160 miles away and nearly four years removed from his days as boys' basketball coach at Lewis-Palmer.

But when asked about the nine games over a four-season span played against Sierra, it didn't take long for the athletic director of the Poudre School District to become nostalgic.

"That brings back a lot of memories," McKinstry said from his Fort Collins office. "There was such a legacy of really competitive games that were played at a high level. When I saw the bracket and saw a possible matchup, I thought back to the unbelievable games we used to have with them."

Sierra won six of the nine meetings, two in 4A semifinal playoffs en route to state championships in 2009 and 2010.

Lewis-Palmer won the last encounter, a thrilling, 44-43 buzzer-beating decision in the 2012 title game.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday in Monument, the Rangers (20-4) and Stallions (20-4) renew acquaintances in a round-of-16 playoff game, yet another chapter in this rivalry that has produced four state champions over the past eight seasons.

The fact that it's been nearly five years since the teams met doesn't seem to register with those who met on the court at Boulder's CU Events Center.

"That makes me feel old," said Wesley Gordon, a senior on the 2012 Sierra squad who's finishing his senior season at Colorado. "It's been awhile. Those games bring back good memories. The first thing I think of is having to beat them to win state. Both teams competed at a high level every time out."

Gordon went head-to-head with L-P big man Josh Scott three times before becoming Buffaloes teammates.

Of course, Gordon didn't let an opportunity pass to let Scott know the overall outcome of those three games, plus six other regular-season meetings.

"We beat them more than they beat us," Gordon said with a laugh. "It was pretty cool to be a part of."

Before the 2008-09 season, the schools had never met. Then Lewis-Palmer moved down to 4A, joined the Colorado Springs Metro League and became an instant challenger to the Stallions' throne. Even though Sierra won the league crown in 2009, its only loss came at the hands of the Rangers, but the Stallions avenged that setback in the state semifinals.

Sierra went 15-0 in 2009-10, dealing Lewis-Palmer its only two league losses and eliminated the Rangers from the playoffs again en route to a second straight state title.

Lewis-Palmer wrestled the league crown from the Stallions in 2010-11 and defended it the next season, going undefeated. Sierra lost only two times in 2011-12, both to the Rangers.

Then, the 16-team Metro League split in half, Lewis-Palmer among eight to form the Pikes Peak Athletic Conference for the 2012-13 season. The Rangers defended their state title and also reached the semifinals in 2014 and quarterfinals a season ago.

The Stallions have fared well in their league, as well, claiming the past three 4A CSML titles and advancing to the semifinals in 2014-15.

But something was missing along the way.

On Wednesday, they'll have to go through each other, again, to stay in the playoffs.

"It's fun to renew that," said Bill Benton, the fourth-year Lewis-Palmer coach who was an assistant under McKinstry. "We're talking about two really good programs with great histories and tradition. We've had great battles, and it's hard to believe it's been that long since we've played. There's a different energy, and our guys are excited for it. I know Sierra is, too."