Tucson’s seven treys boost ’Cats in Blanca

Ignacio’s Triston Thompson (11) tries driving around Mancos’ Connor Showalter (24) and into the lane during SJBL action Tuesday, Feb. 18, at MHS.
Ignacio’s Bird Red (23) grabs a rebound over not only Blanca-based Sierra Grande’s Isreal Martinez (10) but fellow Bobcat Dylan Labarthe (12) during non-league action Friday, Feb. 21.
Ignacio’s Ocean Hunter (32) brings the ball into the paint during non-league action Friday, Feb. 21, at Blanca-based Sierra Grande.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

IHS avenges loss to Mancos at SG, 66-46

Frequently cornered, whether by design or by defenders, Gabe Tucson had no problem shooting his way out of a tight spot Friday afternoon, Feb. 21, in Blanca, Colo.

His first three-pointer increased a growing Ignacio advantage to 8-2 early in the first, his second swelled it to 15-6 late, and his third – an immediate response to an enemy timeout, attempting to prevent Class 2A’s No. 6-ranked crew from rebuilding a double-digit lead – unfortunately proved to 1A Sierra Grande that his left hand was the hottest inside the Panthers’ fieldhouse.

Knowing full well the possible ramifications of a difficult 69-57 loss at No. 7 Mancos just three days before in the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League’s most-anticipated rematch this winter, and thus knowing the importance of simply concluding regular-season work on the up, Tucson swished a spectacular seven treys all told and totaled 23 points as the Bobcats won 66-46.

“It felt good to be back in the zone, trying to help the team out,” said Tucson, relieved to again be a factor offensively after being blanked by both the Blue Jays and 1A No. 10 Ouray Trojans (whom IHS clipped 75-67 Sat., Feb. 15).

“Last-minute, I put him in there and he’s still able to play like that,” head coach Chris Valdez said, alluding to a decision to start the sophomore in place of junior Triston Thompson, who did not travel.  “He’s a good player, could start for just about any team.  So I’m never afraid of not having one of our guards; somebody else will step up.  I thought he did a great job.”

Tucson’s fourth triple went in the scorebook just before halftime as IHS’ 17-7 first-quarter lead ballooned to 34-17.  Sparked by junior guard Caleb Scharsch’s seven third-quarter points, Matt Lucero’s Panthers managed to stay somewhat afloat by securing the stanza 14-13, though Tucson’s lone two-pointer sent the game into its final frame with Ignacio well ahead, 47-31.

Regardless, the Southern Peaks Leaguers continued to battle, aggressively driving into the lane in hopes of either drawing contact or converting circus-style shots in traffic.  Raising Valdez’s ire, SGHS clawed back to 54-42 via an Isiah Chairez breakaway layup with 2:45 remaining, and ultimately as near as 56-45 before Tucson coldly canned a three and junior post Bryce Finn promptly followed with a fine 14-foot deuce.

“We get ahead by halftime, then all of a sudden we start looking in the rear-view mirror … and they’re coming back on us,” said Valdez.  “We’ve got to stop doing that because if we don’t, we’re not going anywhere.  You know?  We’ll be done.  Hopefully we’ll get by districts, but we’ll be done at regionals if we don’t step up and start playing the game right.”

“We want to just accept the fact that we lost to Mancos, get better from that game and just move on.  Then face [Mancos] again,” Tucson said.  “Keep pushing the ball … and don’t rest.”

Booking eight points down the stretch, Finn finished with 12 points against Sierra Grande, after having exploded for twice that many (20 of those 24 came after intermission) inside MHS Gymnasium in view of a capacity crowd.

“We turned the ball over way too much … something we can’t do in close games,” he said, reflecting on the loss.  “Gave up 12 points on offensive rebounds off free throws, about 20 points in transition – stuff we know we should do better, and that we just didn’t do.”

“They’re always a tough team to play because of their size,” Finn continued, alluding to 6’5” senior Caden Showalter (12 points) and 6’4” sophomore brother Connor (25 points), “and they’ve even got that other kid … who can shoot the ball real good [sophomore Evan Sehnert, who made four threes and totaled 14 points] – another element we just weren’t prepared for.”

“I’m sure we’re both looking forward to districts, and the championship game … if all goes well.”

Kept scoreless at Mancos before fouling out with 5:46 left, junior guard Brady McCaw bounced back well against SGHS (7-12 overall) with 14 points, while senior guard Keegan Schurman netted six points against each side.  Senior post Ocean Hunter totaled seven points in the contests, while junior post Dylan Labarthe totaled nine coming off the bench.

Denied a converted fourth-quarter free throw by his team’s official scorekeeper, Panther senior Isreal Martinez in fact scored a team-high 15 points against IHS, with Scharsch (14) and Chairez (11) joining him in double figures.

Standing 15-3 overall, 9-1 against all SJBL opposition (7-1 against the loop’s 2A members), the ’Cats will begin the postseason Friday, Feb. 28, at neutral Montezuma-Cortez H.S. as the 2A-District 3 Tournament’s No. 2 seed, as No. 1 MHS (16-3, 10-1, 7-1) concluded regular-season action on the 21st winning 59-46 at Telluride.

“Tough place to play with the altitude, and they’ve got a really scrappy team,” Mancos skipper Elijah Knepper said, of playing in the Miners’ house.  “It’d be really nice to kind of rest up for a week before we have to play again, but I’m looking forward to postseason play; it’s a lot of fun down the stretch.”

Ignacio will first square off with 3-seed THS (7-12, 5-6, 3-5) in the 8:30 p.m. game on the tourney’s first night, with MHS having met either 4-seed Ridgway (3-5 2A SJBL) or 5-seed Dolores (0-8) – pit against each other in a 2/25 ‘pigtail’ play-in game at RHS – earlier in the evening.  The winners will then battle for the championship on Day 2 at 2:30 p.m., with the losers contesting third place at 11:30 a.m.

“We need to improve on our defense, our transition defense,” said Valdez.  “Transition defense is really our big thing, and we’ve got to attack the basket – be physical to the basket – then finish.”

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