For the third time in as many seasons, the Great Eight seemed tantalizingly close.
The Mancos Bluejays, hot off a district title and comfortable winners in their 2A opening-round game over Golden View Classical Academy, appeared poised to send a senior-heavy group to the state tournament for the first time since 2019.
The 12th-seeded Peyton Panthers had other ideas.
Bringing in their own experienced group, having advanced to the 2A state semifinals the year before, Peyton swarmed Mancos for 32 minutes on Saturday, knocking the Jays out of the field in the round of 16 for the third year running, 57-28.
The visitors set the tone from the opening jump, controlling the tempo of the game, and forcing Mancos (19-4, 10-1 2A/1A SJBL) to play lengthy defensive possessions with crisp ball movement.
Down 5-0 three minutes into the game, Mancos sophomore Kail Wayman drained a triple to get the crowd going and moments later, cut the deficit to 8-7 with a floater late in the first quarter.
However, against the Panthers zone, every offensive sequence required Mancos to match their opponent’s precision, which started to take its toll as the game wore on. After holding Peyton’s leading scorer, senior Gibson Gellerman, scoreless through the opening frame, the sharp-shooting guard started to find gaps in the Mancos zone. Seven quick points in the second quarter helped the Panthers balloon the lead to 18-11.
A three-pointer right at the horn from Peyton’s AJ Lashley sent the District 8 runners-up storming into the locker room with a 10-point margin.
Mancos fans took solace in the fact that the Bluejays had made a living in the second halves of games all season, making adjustments to jump-start the offense. Senior Edgar Hernandez dropped in a bucket to start the half, closing the score to 21-13.
The Gellerman onslaught didn’t slow down, however, as he caught fire from the perimeter and added 11 points in the third quarter while the Jays offense continued to stay in neutral.
Mancos leading scorer Connor Showalter, held to a lone field goal in the first half, added six points in the second half but was limited by double teams and foul trouble for most of the afternoon.
As the dust settled after three quarters, Peyton held a 44-20 lead, and the Bluejays’ dream of a deep postseason run faded away.
Senior Evan Sehnert knocked home a three-pointer, but Peyton drained the clock before hitting backdoor cuts for easy buckets, leaving Bluejays head coach Bob Archibeque to provide his seniors a curtain call with two minutes to go.
In their second-worst scoring output of the season, Wayman led the Jays with nine points, while Showalte’s storied career ended with eight. Sehnert added five points, and Hernandez scored four.
Gellerman led all scorers with 22 points, while Lashley finished with a dozen.
Peyton advances to the 2A Great Eight at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland over the weekend of March 10-12. Mancos’ season wraps up with 19 wins, the third time the Jays reached that high-water mark since 2006.
Saturday’s loss came in stark contrast to the efficient performance that the Jays enjoyed the night before, when they topped Golden View Classical Academy. Mancos raced out to a 41-19 halftime lead, before holding on for a 69-52 victory. Sehnert led the way with 20 points for Mancos, while Wayman (14 points), Showalter (12 points), and sophomore Chris Medina (11 points) all broke into double figures.
The Lady Jays, coming off a district runner-up finish, earned a No. 17 seed in the 2A field, and faced No. 16 seed Akron in the opening round of the Region 1 pod in Sanford. Mancos (14-8, 6-2 2A/1A SJBL) battled for four quarters with the Rams, leading by as many as six points in the game before succumbing to a scoring barrage from the Rams’ star scorer, Addi Kessinger, who tallied 23 points in a 41-31 win for the Rams.
Mancos trailed 21-16 at the break, only to see Akron (12-10, 3-5 2A/1A Lower Platte) score the first seven points of the second half. Early in the fourth quarter, Mancos scored to bring the game within seven, at 32-25, but that would be as close as the Jays would come.
Akron would close out Mancos to end a second consecutive winning season for head coach Kerri Morgan's group, as a quartet of seniors wrapped up one of the best seasons in program history.
Akron advanced to the regional finals, where they fell to top-seeded Sanford, 50-26, seeing the Indians win the regional title and advance to the 2A state tournament.