Wed Dec 9th, 2015
Special to the Drum
Clinging to a tenuous five-point lead as the clock ticked under 30 seconds remaining, it didn’t take a genius to guess which Pirate the Bobcats would swarm in hopes of preserving a come-from-behind effort Tuesday, Dec. 1.
And head coach Chris Valdez sent one of his stickiest defenders – senior guard Anthony Manzanares – to do the duty of blanketing Pagosa Springs’ Isaiah Griego as he hoisted up a three in view of boss Randy Sorenson.
Unfortunately for the visitors, not only did the shot miss but the rebound ended up in the clutches of the Cat PSHS – or any team, really – was most reluctant to foul during crunch time.
Sent to the foul line as the IHS Gymnasium loyalists screamed their approval – and the Pirates’ demise – senior guard Wyatt Hayes put the finishing touches on a 16-point performance with two swishes, and the waning eight seconds then evaporated without further incident, giving Ignacio a 48-41 win tipping off the 2015-16 season.
Pagosa Springs (0-1, 0-0 3A Intermountain) fought for a 14-7 lead through one quarter, and forced Valdez into a timeout after a Griego breakaway layup with 4:39 left in the second increased it to 19-9. Then the fun began.
A Manzanares three-point play, produced by a surprise Johnny Valdez steal at the other end, sliced the advantage down to 19-14, Hayes’ first trey made the score 21-19 with 2:28 left, and IHS (1-0, 0-0 2A/1A San Juan Basin) went into the locker room down just 23-21 after a late Valdez up-and-under scoop.
A Manzanares triple trimmed the guests’ lead to 25-24 early in the third quarter, and senior Tucker Ward completed the rally with a subsequent three to tie the contest at 27. PSHS managed to re-take a 31-29 lead into the fourth quarter, but the building’s energy was very much pro-Ignacio.
“We tried … taking passing lanes away from their guards by playing better pressure defense,” Valdez said. “So they couldn’t get as many passes in there. They still got some, but I thought we did a better job on that.”
Still, the Pirates managed to keep the Bobcats at bay until IHS got a Hayes three and a Ward layup to move ahead, 42-41. Frustrated Pagosa forward Briar Erskine then fouled out with 1:06 left, allowing senior Austin McCaw to sink a key free throw, and Ward then duplicated it with 0:31 left.
And when Ward missed his second attempt, Hayes crippled PSHS’ morale by grabbing the rebound and drawing a foul – yielding two easy points from the stripe and a 46-41 lead with half a minute to play.
Manzanares finished with 12 points, Ward nine, McCaw three and senior center Nick Herrera six. Griego led Pagosa with 16 points, Herrera counterpart Mike Kuhl booked eight and Erskine equaled Ty Kimsey’s four.
IHS was 12-of-19 overall in the free-throw department, and the Pirates an efficient 7-of-8.
“I thought that down the stretch with Tucker and Wyatt making all but one free throw is really what it’s about,” Valdez said. “And you think about starting five seniors … I’ve never started five my whole life as a coach – and I’ve been coaching for 21 years – just having that leadership out there was important, balancing the floor … down the stretch and not making the mistakes that they were making.”
Ignacio was next to compete at the Centauri-hosted Mountain Top Classic, though the site for this year’s three-day event was actually within the Falcons’ La Jara nest rather than Adams State University in Alamosa.
With no game slated for Day 1 on Thursday, Dec. 3, the Cats first faced Glenwood Springs the evening of Day 2, then challenged 3A CHS (GSHS’ Day 1 opponent) early in the afternoon on Day 3. Results were unavailable at press time, but Valdez seemed confident in the Bobcats’ San Luis Valley chances.
“A 4A team, and playing them on a neutral court … I think we can go be competitive,” Valdez said. “We needed this game to go over there and be a competitive team; if that’s our first game, I think we’d really struggle. With this game under our belt, a good talk tomorrow and a good practice, I think we’ll be ready for Friday.”
Looking ahead, IHS heads to non-league Center on Dec. 11, then to Dolores on the 17th starting SJBL play.