Rather than his trademark cowboy boots, ice bags shrouded his ankles as he left IHS Gymnasium.
But every bit of Justin Carver, for at least five seconds of Thursday, Feb. 13, felt no pain; the breakaway jam, which had twice slipped his grip the night before in Nucla, went down cleanly to effectively cap a home win over Ouray.
“It was very, very exciting,” said the senior center of the moment he got a pass from classmate Clayton Jefferson – forgoing an uncontested layup – with no one else nearby. “I was happy; he’s my ‘little brother’ out there, and he gave me the ball. So it was big in my heart, and probably big to everyone else.”
“It was awesome,” said sophomore guard Wyatt Hayes, whose steal near the Trojans’ bench triggered the highlight-reel run in the fourth quarter of what ended an 83-38 rout. “Just to see a dunk; we haven’t had … in high school, I’ve never seen a dunk on a team I’ve been on.”
Jefferson’s game-opening three-pointer told the fans all they needed to know about the fate which befell the Mustangs, and which rapidly revealed itself to OHS – Ignacio’s third opponent in as many nights, with one more still remaining during the trying stretch.
“We have to keep our focus,” junior forward Adison Jones said. “We know every team’s going to give us their best shot coming at us, No. 1, so we’ve just got to play hard and take it.”
“Sometimes kids get complacent, thinking about other things, and we try to keep their mind on playing,” head coach Chris Valdez said. “Go to Mancos … try to get a team that’s like 11-5? 12-5? We’ve got to go ready to play.”
JV call-up guard Isaiah Harrison properly polished off Ouray with his first varsity point, sinking one-of-three from the stripe with six seconds left on the clock, and sophomore forward Nick Herrera then nailed down unbeaten Ignacio’s 15th victory with a stuff of Trojan senior Derek Hanshaw at the court’s other end.
“The kids were so happy for [Harrison]. That’s what makes me feel good about this team: They’re so unselfish. All they wanted to do was get him the ball,” Valdez said. “Xavier [Reynolds] and John [House] didn’t score, but they were more worried about getting him the ball and getting him the opportunity to score. So if we do win a flag of any kind, he gets to be on that thing, gets to be a part of that forever.”
Coming off a team-leading 14 points in Ignacio’s 95-7 demolition of Nucla, Jefferson sank two more treys in the first against OHS, helping the Cats build a 23-5 lead, and totaled 13 points – matching Jones, who netted six of his also in the initial eight minutes, when Ignacio’s inside/outside supremacy was established.
Carver finished with 11 points – all coming in the second half – but senior guard Bo Ward, coming off the bench, ended up doing the most damage with a strong 15-point performance, accented by triples in the first and the fourth.
“As soon as somebody makes a three, it’s like it’s contagious,” said Hayes, whose trio of threes in the second increased Ignacio’s lead to 45-17 at halftime, “and it just goes all over the place. Everybody’ll start making them!”
The Cats played a mentally balanced game and didn’t force anything they didn’t have to, Valdez said.
“Some kids, like Bo, who don’t usually penetrate used penetrating abilities and hit some little runners,” he said. “[Ouray] played pretty good defense, hustled to spots … kept us from shooting the wide-open shots, and we had to start penetrating and creating.”
Hayes and senior Kelton Richmond each finished with nine points, and Herrera had four against the Trojans (7-6 overall), who were paced by senior Clay Zimmerman’s 13. Freshman Lincoln Sackman dropped in 10 and sophomore Caleb Preston booked five in defeat.
Against Nucla (0-11), Carver racked up 13 points, Jones finished with 12, sophomore guard Tucker Ward 11– nine via three of the Bobcats’ 12 threes– and Bo Ward nine. Hayes scored just five, but every player in a black jersey scored– unofficially, in Reynolds’ case – at least two points, including sophomore guard Anthony Manzanares (eight points), whose 14 bench points had energized Ignacio in an 82-53 beating of 3A Bayfield on Feb. 11. Jefferson and Hayes each scored 17 in that clash.
“As far as progression, I think that gave us a lot of excitement and brought us together a little bit,” Carver said. “I mean, Bayfield … I’m from there, so it’s always good to beat them. I think we played it, forgot about it, and kept moving forward to the next one.”
Nucla trailed Ignacio 43-0 in the second quarter before an Isaac Salazar three-pointer got the Mustangs on their own scoreboard at long last.
“It shows our heart, and how good we’re going to play down the stretch,” Hayes said. “It’s good to get our feet under us and everything.”
Valdez said it’s always fun when everybody gets a chance to play and score.
“Give the younger guys more of a chance to play, and try to keep the score under a hundred,” he said, “but we do want to give our [starting] guys a little bit of a run.”
And even with a Valentine’s Day trip to MHS, followed by a stiff road test at 1A Monticello, Utah, on Feb. 18 – results unavailable by deadline – a trip to Norwood on Feb. 21 and the regular-season finale at home versus Telluride on Feb. 22, the Cats seem to know not the meaning of fatigue.
“I don’t think it’s set in. Because we’re all like family out there; we’re getting up and down the court and we’re all just excited for each other. So we don’t really feel it,” Carver said. “I mean, I felt tired going into yesterday’s game … and then I see Clayton get a steal, I see Wyatt get a steal, and I’m like, ‘Here we go!’ And it’s just exciting all over again!”
Prior to a Feb. 14 road game at Price, Utah, Pinnacle – preceding Ignacio’s visit – Monticello stood 13-3 overall, 7-0 in their state’s Region 19. Their only losses had come against top-fivers (Deseret News poll) Tabiona and Duchesne, and upset-minded 2A Blanding San Juan.