Fri Mar 13th, 2020
Special to the Drum
Treading a fine line between fouling out and a fourth quarter for the ages, junior guard Brady McCaw managed to more or less will the Ignacio boys out of a respected rival’s house and back into the Class 2A State Championships’ deciding ‘Great Eight’ phase.
“He did great,” beamed junior reserve Joe Garcia. “Succeeded in everything … that’s what he did. Handled his part.”
Having already helped the Bobcats re-gain a 33-31 lead on San Juan Basin League power Mancos with 3:00 remaining in the Region IV finale’s third quarter, via five free throws in as many tries – products of two Christian Cova fouls – during a 34-second span, McCaw would erupt for 16 fourth-quarter points and finish with a game-high 24 as IHS won going away, 58-48.
(A mid-range Cova baseline jumper at the final buzzer may or may not have been credited afterwards.)
“We were able to get wide-open shots,” explained elated IHS head coach Chris Valdez. “We took some bad ones, don’t get me wrong, but hit the ones we needed to hit – that gave us leads and put pressure on them.”
“There were times we screwed up plays, and you could tell,” he continued, “but for the most part our kids worked their tails off; I was really proud of them.”
Of course, any person squeezing into MHS Gymnasium Saturday morning, March 7, could have sensed something so spectacular was in the cards; a roller-coaster first quarter, set off by three-pointers by McCaw and junior guard Triston Thompson, ended dead even at 12-12 – and only because Blue Jay sophomore star forward Connor Showalter’s bank-shot three from just inside midcourt with 1.5 seconds left was nullified by a foul committed by IHS’ Gabe Tucson prior to the attempt.
Undaunted, Mancos managed to inbound the ball to almost the exact same spot and – to the visitors’ horror – exact same player, but Showalter’s encore effort narrowly missed. Which in hindsight wasn’t a bad thing; the buzz inside the revamped building was indeed State-like, as everyone wondered what would happen next.
“I love it,” Showalter said of the playoff atmosphere and, more specifically, the aura about MHS-v-IHS. “Great competition, and it’s always a … big crowd. Just a fun environment, honestly.”
“It’s obviously a game we look forward to, that we have our mind set on,” said Bobcat junior forward Bryce Finn. “There were good matchups,” added McCaw. “We just wanted to come out and beat them … take home a win.”
Coming in off a 72-67 escape from Pueblo-based Dolores Huerta Prep in the previous night’s semifinals, Ignacio maintained aggressor status as the second quarter began, with senior reserve Bird Red nailing a three-pointer and senior regular Keegan Schurman immediately following with a trey from the opposite corner.
Defending their home floor, the Jays struck back and leveled the score at 18-18 and again at 21-21 via two FTs by sophomore wing Evan Sehnert and one by senior post Caden Showalter, respectively. But IHS senior post Ocean Hunter powered inside for a basket late, and the ’Cats (18-4 overall) would go into halftime leading 24-23 after the younger Showalter managed a two-point buzzer-beater.
With momentum, MHS (19-4) started the third quarter on an 8-2 run keyed by a Sehnert triple. Having frequently burned the Bobcats from deep in each of the teams’ three previous meetings this winter, Sehnert, perhaps more so than either Showalter or the capable point guard Cova, was a must-stop target and, fortunately, would not strike again from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, baskets by Hunter, Schurman and Garcia helped IHS rally, leading up to McCaw’s equalizing 3-of-3 trip to the stripe with 3:34 left. After McCaw then put the guests up two, Blue Jay senior guard Anthony Medina swished two FTs, re-tying the score at 33-33 shortly before Tucson converted a skittish Red pass intended for Hunter in the paint into two go-ahead points from close range just before the buzzer.
Having managed nine points against the Round-of-32’s 20-seed Scorpions, he quickly banked in one-third of that number beginning the final frame against Mancos. But the No. 4 Blue Jays wouldn’t break, despite the 40-35 margin growing to 47-41 via two-point buckets by McCaw and Hunter, plus a Schurman three.
“At times – especially early in the fourth – we got a little bit sloppy on the defensive end,” MHS head coach Elijah Knepper said. “Our initial defense was really good. We forced them to take some tough shots … credit to Ignacio’s players.”
Connor Showalter drilled a three with 4:21 remaining, bringing MHS – victorious over 29-seed Hoehne, 70-56, in the other semi – back to 47-44, but McCaw would incredibly string together the Bobcats’ final 11 points down the home stretch.
A three-pointer upped 13-seed Ignacio’s lead to 50-44, and another to 53-44, before the red-hot right-hander sank two free throws, in response to a Caden Showalter basket, with only 39.3 ticks left. He’d add one more FT, giving him eight makes in ten total tries (IHS went 10-of-16 all told), and also net one last two-pointer – both answering Caden Showalter’s final finish – before the final buzzer unleashed a celebration not to be forgotten.
After registering 14 points against DHPH, Schurman totaled 12 points against Mancos while Hunter – who piled up a team-best 18 against the Scorps before fouling out – finished with six. Red replicated his four-point production as the Bobcat reserves outscored the Jays’ 11-0, but Thompson (13 points versus Dolores Huerta) ended up with only three points in his starting role. Slowed by seven total fouls, Finn totaled just eight points in the conquests.
“Bryce really didn’t have a big game … never got into a rhythm shooting or inside,” said Valdez. “So those other guys picked him up a little bit.”
“We tell the guys, we’ve got a lot of offensive power so not every time are you going to score 18, 20,” he added. “Our guards help us be unselfish – I don’t care who scores! If we do [care], we’re never going to get where we want to be.”
Reportedly CHSAA’s career leader in double-doubles, Caden Showalter’s prep days concluded with a MHS-best 19 points against Ignacio, while younger brother Connor totaled 13.
“It’s pretty tough,” said Connor Showalter, talking about sharing the court one last time with his decorated sibling, “but me and Caden did pretty good. So it was good.”
“I’m glad I get to coach them, and nobody else [does],” Knepper added.
Medina booked eight points and Sehnert five, while Cova officially logged three points (and possibly five).
Set to travel to Loveland and the Budweiser Events Center for the final three-day event and re-seeded No. 8, IHS’ next opponent was to be high-scoring 1-seed Ault Highland (23-1) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 12, but results against the Region II rulers – owners of 11 90-point games already this season, with a max of 113 achieved Feb. 25 – were unavailable at press time.
The winning side will then advance to the next evening’s 5:30 p.m. test, to face either 4-seed Sanford or 5-seed Wray, while the losing bunches would battle for survival at 10:15 a.m.
On Day 3, the fifth-place game will be held at 2:30 p.m. in Greeley inside the Bank of Colorado Arena at the University of Northern Colorado’s Butler-Hancock Athletic Center, but the third-place (11:30 a.m.) and championship (8:30 p.m.) games will still be played at the BEC.