Thu Mar 9th, 2023
Special to the Drum
Tags: Ambrose Valdez, Bobcats Boys Basketball, CHSAA 3A-Region VII Tournament Championship, Gabe Cox, Ignacio Bobcats Basketball, Peyton High School
For being a team which won just five regular-season games this winter, the Ignacio Bobcats certainly didn’t play the part in the playoffs and entered the Class 3A-Region VII Tournament’s championship game Saturday afternoon, March 4, having grabbed three of their most recent four.
Which included a heart-stopping 45-42 upset of event-hosting Peyton—once Panther senior Logan Nickell’s attempted three-pointer finally rimmed out at the buzzer after it appeared to be forcing overtime—the previous evening.
“They won a game they’re not supposed to win—over the number-seven team—to advance to the Sweet 16,” stated IHS head coach Chris Valdez. “Last year we got beat out in the Round-of-32 in 2A, so we made it one round further…beat the home seed on their floor with a big crowd! I was proud of the kids.”
“You know, this season’s been up and down,” he continued. “Going back into 3A, where the competition’s so much better—we had four top teams in our league, and two of them were 4A!—it really helped us prepare for this.”
Seeded 26th in the 3A State Tournament’s Round-of-32, the ’Cats found themselves facing No. 23 The Pinnacle upon PHS’ Clowers Court, with the Federal Heights-based Timberwolves having stunned 10-seed Colorado Springs The Vanguard 53-45 in the previous day’s other semifinal.
However, led by senior guard Eppie Quintana, Ignacio looked primed early on to pull off another shocker. Responding quickly to Pinnacle senior guard Robert McClinton’s first three-pointer, Quintana sank already his second to regain the designated guests an 8-7 advantage. But after Bobcat freshman Ambrose Valdez knocked down a near-trey re-tying the score at 10-10, the ’Wolves got five straight McClinton points—a triple, plus a breakaway layup off a steal—before Quintana booked a basket shortly before time expired, keeping IHS close at 15-12.
Unfortunately, the ’Cats would get no closer.
Outscored 11-2 during the first 5:32 of the second stanza, Ignacio fell behind 26-14 before boss Valdez called a timeout with 2:28 remaining until halftime. And for a moment, the pause seemed to serve the Bobcats well; junior center/forward Gabe Cox maneuvered inside for two points and junior guard Devante Montoya followed with a trey cutting The Pinnacle’s lead down to 26-19. Fouled by Ambrose Valdez with 0:01.4 left, junior forward Jacob Madrid answered by making one of two free throws and the Timberwolves went back to their locker room up eight.
Reportedly averaging more than 30 points per game, McClinton began the third quarter with a baseline jumper and, after IHS crept back within ten points, 33-24, via three Quintana FTs in four tries, later closed it out sinking two of three FTs after being fouled by Montoya on a three-point attempt—with 0:00.6 to go—right in front of the designated home team’s bench.
Down 41-26 beginning the final frame, the Bobcats attempted one last push but found themselves losing even more ground as McClinton went 7-of-8 from the charity stripe during the deciding eight minutes and totaled the last nine of his game-high 31 points as The Pinnacle ultimately prevailed 56-36.
“We had an unfortunate injury…had a key player come out, and it was next-man-up for us,” said Timberwolves head coach Ron Guerrero, alluding to senior reserve Philip Pham seriously hurting his lower left leg with 5:04 left in the first quarter and IHS up 5-4. “It’s a team effort, from our starting five all the way down to our 14th man; I’m just so proud of the guys.”
Madrid (3 points) and senior center Noah Estes (6) combined to offset Ignacio’s low-post duo of Cox (6) and senior forward/center Dylan McCaw (2), plus sophomore alternate Charlie Pargin (0).
“(Cox) was definitely a factor on the floor. We got to watch some film on him and wanted to front him, double-team him so we can limit his touches in the paint,” Guerrero explained. “Estes really plays hard defense, tries to keep a big out of there, and we can come with Madrid to help. They’re pillars of our defense down low; without those two…we don’t do very well.”
Seniors Izaiah Parsons and Daunte Dominguez also scored six points apiece for the ’Wolves (16-8 overall), while sophomore Nehemiah Arellano and freshman Caleb Arellano each chipped in two.
Quintana totaled 14 points in his final game for the Bobcats (8-16), Montoya matched his two threes in registering ten points, and Valdez finished with four. Junior guard Phillip Quintana was held scoreless and fouled out with 3:36 left in the contest.
“We need to start games better, and that’s going to be a big part of the plan next year—not coming from behind,” said Chris Valdez. “I didn’t kid myself thinking we could stop (McClinton), but in a zone we could hold him to a few shots and we just didn’t step out. We gave them…wide-open shots and were on our heels the rest of the game.”
Advancing to the 2023 CHSAA Class 3A State Championships’ Great Eight phase, the Timberwolves were to next face 2-seed Salida (23-1) Thursday morning, March 9, inside the University of Denver’s Hamilton Gymnasium.
“Right out our back door!” beamed Guerrero. “We’re…so excited for the guys to experience the pageantry, the playing, and it’s all about them believing in each other, you know? The way we’ve played this year…we can’t wait to get to DU.”
IGNACIO 45, PEYTON 42: In the victory over the hosting Panthers, Cox led the ’Cats with 16 points, eight coming during the pins-and-needles fourth quarter. Montoya made two threes and tallied ten points, while Phillip Quintana sank three treys and logged nine. Eppie Quintana scored five points, Valdez made a three, and McCaw chipped in two points.
Junior forward/center Ayden Breese scored 13 first-quarter points for Peyton (13-9 overall) and ended up with a game-high 24, but PHS couldn’t hold an early 16-4 lead. IHS cut the margin down to 16-8 beginning the second, eventually went into halftime down 24-23, and later closed out the third quarter having pulled even at 34.