Thu Mar 5th, 2015
Special to the Drum
Four minutes, fifty-four seconds remained before halftime when Mancos’ Rodney Cox slammed his hands together and shouted ‘Timeout!’ about as loud as any coach could without being rendered inaudible by the roaring Ignacio fan base jamming Montezuma-Cortez’s Ron Wright Memorial Gymnasium on Saturday, Feb. 28.
Not overly critical of his Blue Jays’ effort in the 2A-District 3 Tournament’s finale against the top-seeded team – the Bobcats had only led 11-10 after one quarter – he just wasn’t in a mood to watch the latest rerun of IHS’ equivalent of ‘Lethal Weapon 2.’
As in No. 2, junior Wyatt Hayes.
A point guard with shooting-guard range extending to, seemingly, midcourt without hesitation, Hayes’ back-to-back treys from nearly ten feet from the three-point arc ripped open what had been a 15-12 contest and definitively put Ignacio on track towards its eighth straight district-level championship, 59 to 39.
“It’s just been good that he got hot,” junior center Nick Herrera said of his sharpshooting teammate, who totaled ten triples and 41 points against MHS and, in the event’s semifinals, Ridgway. “Stepped it up and gave us the energy, the intensity for the push to finish the games.”
“It’s just a big honor to win it eight times in a row. And just keep going on … see how far we can make it!”
Coming in off a 35-point home win versus Norwood on the February 20 and a 22-point triumph at Telluride the following evening to cap the regular season with another San Juan Basin League crown, the Bobcat boys first faced RHS – survivors of the dreaded ‘pigtail’ game at home versus Dolores three nights earlier – on the February 27, and immediately burned the Demons for an incredible, unanswered 18 points.
Junior guard Hasten Beamer at last got the bracket’s 4-seed on the board with a bucket 4:57 into the opening stanza, but Bobcat junior guard Anthony Manzanares promptly countered with a three-ball and IHS ended the quarter with eight more points for a fiery eight-minute total of 29 – decisively drubbing Ridgway’s seven.
Senior forward Adison Jones, who’d netted six points in the first, kept his foot on the gas in the second, booking seven of Ignacio’s next 18 as the tourney’s 1-seed coasted into halftime, up 47-19.
En route to recording a game-high 21 points, Beamer poured in ten during the Demons’ 14-12 mini-victory of a third quarter. And primarily against Chris Valdez’s second team, RHS won the fourth 16-7, helped by 9-of-9 foul-line accuracy and a Saville three.
But in the end, IHS advanced to the next afternoon’s title tilt via a 66-49 conquest. Jones led the way with 16 points, and Hayes landed his weekend’s first five bombs for his 15. Junior guard Tucker Ward reached double figures with ten, Manzanares ended up with nine and Herrera eight.
Saville ended with 13 for Ridgway (8-11), and junior forward Eli Hagemeyer posted eight.
Meeting MHS for a third time this winter, Ignacio knew they might be in for a fight.
“We were definitely pumped up for the game,” Blue Jay junior center Ro Paschal said. “And we knew we didn’t have any pressure on us … so it was kind of relaxed. But we were still ready.”
Enough so that even after Herrera, celebrating his 17th birthday, won the opening tip and soon dropped in his first bucket, and even after Hayes’ first long-range strike – putting the Cats up 9-3 – the 2-seed squad rallied to close the gap to just a point, 11-10 after an exciting eight minutes on the neutral court.
But after Hayes – who also booked ten steals, five assists and four rebounds – truly went ballistic with the aforementioned missiles, Jones coldly swished a three after Cox’s chat and Ignacio would own a 30-21 lead at intermission. Believing his side was in contention, however, Mancos senior forward Daniel Christensen tried establishing a team attitude with a harsh, two-handed slap of the floor as Jones brought the ball to the top of the key.
The move backfired; Jones (who snared 11 boards) rattled in a triple just seconds later, and with Hayes netting another seven points – en route to a tournament-best 26 – the Bobcats won the period 17 to 7 and went into the fourth quarter cruising, 47-28.
“I thought we played hard. Our defense … stifled them – to hold a team to less than ten points a quarter, that was a fantastic job,” said Valdez. “And I thought where they hurt us – in the post – the last time we played…we changed that up and they didn’t hurt us, as much.”
‘As much,’ indeed. Christensen was held to just six points and senior forward Jayden Peacock just two first-quarter three-pointers, but Paschal was definitely problematic in the paint with his team-high 18.
“Straight post-ups … they did get a few,” Valdez admitted, “but not nearly as many as last time; our defense deserves a lot of credit for that.”
“They just tried to kick it to the outside…. ‘Shoot the open three’ is what I’m guessing they were doing,” was Herrera’s similar analysis. “They didn’t pound it into the post like they did last time.”
“The difference is making shots,” Paschal said. “I think we both had really good heart in the games, and it just came down to making shots in the end.”
Jones finished with nine as IHS improved to 19-2 overall. Herrera and Manzanares each totaled eight, Ward had six and freshman reserve guard Kruz Pardo, who’d drilled one of the bench’s (sophomore Joaquin King hit the other) threes in the rout of Ridgway, two.
“It’s hard to gauge,” Valdez said, of the program’s lengthy streak of success in the postseason’s first phase.
“You go in the locker room, and our players are used to winning district titles – there’s not any real excitement, there’s no jumping up and down and crying … they’re used to winning, and when we don’t win, that’s a front-page headline.”
Up next will be the do-or-don’t challenges of the Region III Tournament, to be staged at multiple sites in Grand Junction rather than at nearby Durango High School as in seasons past.
The Cats will clash with District 5 winners Hotchkiss first at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 6, at GJHS with the winner advancing to face either Oak Creek Soroco or Paonia on the March 7.
Ridgway athletic director Jason Gunning, in an e-mail received Monday, noted that Colorado Mesa University’s Brownson Arena may also be available, but “We will know by the end of Tuesday if we can go to CMU.” That determination unfortunately came after the Drum’s deadline.
“We’re just going to try to go and defend, cover the three, pound into the post…get it going!” said Herrera.
“When you win it seems like another day at the office for these kids,” Valdez said. “They’re so humble and happy to play together. And maybe they’re saving all that emotion to celebrate something at a later time!”