Curtailed by COVID: Boys’ season cut short

Inclusion in the Bobcat boys’ starting lineup seemed a hair-raising experience for hungry junior Triston Thompson (11) prior to IHS’ Class 2A State Championships ‘Great Eight’ game versus Ault Highland inside the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo. Thursday, March 12.
Watched by Ault Highland’s Bowen Tolle at right, Ignacio senior Ocean Hunter (32) tries reeling in a long pass before it flies out of bounds during the teams’ Class 2A State Championships ‘Great Eight’ showdown Thursday night, March 12, inside the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.
With fellow senior Ocean Hunter (32) also flocking to the ball, Ignacio’s Bird Red (23) swoops in to ultimately block the shot of Ault Highland’s Colton Pettit (22) during the teams’ Class 2A State Championships ‘Great Eight’ showdown Thursday night, March 12, inside the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo. It was one of relatively few defensive highlights in an 80-35 defeat.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Bobcats’ State run ends with quarterfinals loss

Following his boys’ second game of the 2019-20 season back in early December, Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez commented on not only the Bobcats’ ability to go toe-to-toe with – and defeat – a State-caliber opponent, but also on a relative inability to silence that opponent’s top gun.

“We had different people on him all game,” he said, speaking of Limon junior Kory Tacha, who shot over, around and through the ’Cats for a game-best 23 points, barely a week after rushing for two touchdowns and catching another to power the Badgers past Strasburg in the CHSAA Class 1A State Football Championship. “And … everybody did a good job.  But he’s always been … a great shooter; that [number] 23’s a monster.”

Fast forward to Thursday, March 12 – Day 1 of the Class 2A State Basketball Championships’ ‘Great Eight’ – when it looked as though an entire Monsters, Inc., still might not be enough to help the double-elimination bracket’s No. 2 seed eventually deny the No. 1 the title which eluded them last winter.

And unfortunately, after LHS withstood 7-seed Peyton’s second-half rally earlier in the evening, No. 8 Ignacio was first to face voracious Highland and show to all what would likely happen to any crew not as motivated.

Fairly familiar with the Ault-based Huskies and their brothers Bassire (senior Tate and junior Jase) from a 65-54 loss in the 2018 tournament’s fifth-place game, Valdez couldn’t help but be even more impressed by HHS’ non-stop onslaught – ultimately producing an 80-35 victory – in the ’20 quarterfinals.

“We’ve never seen a team like [Highland], and none of our teams in our area play anything like that,” he said.  “Not with the speed, aggressiveness and physicality.  Defensively, we never see that ever.”

“Highland is 30 points better than us,” Valdez conceded, “and we fell apart at times.  There were times where if we played our game we could’ve made it more respectable, but we came out and turned the ball over too early and too often.”

“That kind of threw everything off from there,” said junior Bryce Finn.  “It could have got a lot worse, to be honest.”

Four IHS giveaways within the opening 60 seconds helped Highland break out to a 9-0 lead, with junior guard Jesse Vasa driving the lane for two baskets and Tate Bassire burying the first of his four – and HHS’ nine – three-pointers.  Valdez quickly called a timeout, but the deficit would grow to 15-0 before Bobcat senior Ocean Hunter managed to work inside for a close-range hoop with 4:03 left in the first frame.

En route to scoring ten first-quarter points, Jase Bassire responded by racing end-to-end for two points, and the Huskies would also establish 6’5” junior Bowen Tolle in the paint; his first six points helped Highland’s lead reach a jaw-dropping 30-6.

Amazingly, the canines actually failed to score during the stanza’s last 1:07, but treys by Jase Bassire and Tate Bassire keyed a crippling 12-2 run starting the second quarter, and the Huskies (24-1 overall) would go into halftime 4 minutes, 40 seconds later in complete control, 52-16, after a Jase Bassire right-wing triple with 0:01 left.

“That was the same thing the last time we came up here, we got off to a really slow start,” said Valdez, alluding to IHS’ 65-44 loss to Byers on Day 1 of the ’18 tourney, in which the Bulldogs began on a 12-0 run and held a 25-12 lead after just eight minutes.  “Got punched in the mouth and never recovered, really.”

Junior Holden Morgan’s five third-quarter points complemented well Tolle’s four, and HHS would go into the fourth quarter seated atop a comfortable 68-25 cushion and ready to polish off a sort of mercy-rule devastation often seen inside IHS Gymnasium during 2A/1A San Juan Basin League play.

Junior Joe Garcia buried a three-pointer during the home stretch and finished with six points off the bench for Ignacio.  Fellow junior reserve Dylan Labarthe totaled five points, and combined with Garcia for 6-of-12 free-throw accuracy (the ’Cats ended up 8-of-18; the Huskies went 7-of-8).

Finn was held to just five points, all before intermission, while Hunter and fellow starters Triston Thompson and Brady McCaw each booked four points along with sophomore reserve Gabe Tucson.

Slowed by foul trouble early, senior Keegan Schurman managed to net three points.

Able to cash three three-pointers – all during the second quarter – Jase Bassire racked up 25 points for Highland.

“He was all over the place,” Finn said, “just ended up in the right spot all the time.”

Tolle (16) and Tate Bassire (12) joined him in double figures, while Morgan totaled nine points and Vasa six.

Not long after the game – played before a relative skeleton crowd, limited to essential game-day personnel and up to four family members or guests per player/coach due to enacted COVID-19 prevention measures – it was announced by CHSAA that the Championships’ remaining contests would be canceled, in hopes of curbing possible exposure to the rampant virus.

Disappointed by the hand dealt them, the Bobcats nonetheless concluded an excellent bounce-back season – finishing 18-5 overall after going an uncharacteristic 10-10 in ’18-19 (down from 20-6 in 2017-18).

“We’re in a situation where we got knocked down,” said Valdez, “but I know we can get back up again.”

Denied at least one more game in IHS varsity togs were Hunter, Schurman and vital reserve Bird Red.

“What I want of these kids is that … this isn’t going to be the biggest moment of their life,” Valdez said, speaking of – and at – a senior class also including reserve post Johnathon Whitt, inactive for the game but in attendance and participating as a team manager for girls’ head coach and mother Justa.

“When they went above and beyond, were unselfish, and helped each other up. Those times make those kids who they are, and those are the memories I’m going to take from ’em.”

“You’ve got a lot of great things that’ll happen,” he continued.  “Be excited, take some great memories from this and move on; don’t make this the best thing that ever happened to you.  And thank you for … giving me everything you have.”

Definitely a matchup sure to re-energize southern Colorado fans, as it had in postseasons past, Ignacio’s opponent in the consolation semifinals on Day 2 would have been 4-seed Sanford (20-5), toppled 49-36 early on Day 1 by No. 5 Wray; the Eagles (19-6) would have next challenged – or tried to – Highland in the ‘Final Four.’

Joining them in the other winners’ semi would have been Limon (23-2) and 3-seed Yuma (21-3), fortunate to edge No. 6 Fowler on Day 1, 55-51.  The Grizzlies (22-3) would have next met Peyton (19-6) in consolation-semifinal action.

Boys’ “Great Eight”

Thursday, Mar. 12 – No. 8 IGNACIO 35, at No. 1 Ault Highland 80:

IGNACIO 6-10-9-10 – 35: B.McCaw 1 1-2 4, K.Schurman 1 1-2 3, T.Thompson 2 0-0 4, O.Hunter 2 0-1 4, B.Finn 2 0-0 5, D.Labarthe 1 3-8 5, B.Red 0 0-1 0, J.Garcia 1 3-4 6, G.Tucson 2 0-0 4, E.Quintana 0 0-0 0, T.Taylor 0 0-0 0, D.McCaw 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 12 8-18 35.  3-POINTERS: Finn, B.McCaw, Garcia.  TOTAL FOULS: 13.  FOULED OUT: None.

Highland 30-22-16-12 – 80: J.Bassire 9 4-4 25, T.Bassire 4 0-0 12, J.Vasa 3 0-0 6, H.Morgan 3 3-3 9, B.Tolle 8 0-1 16, E.Friesen 0 0-0 0, C.Pettit 1 0-0 3, C.Steinke 1 0-0 2, J.Martin 2 0-0 5, J.Faryna 1 0-0 2, K.Howard 0 0-0 0, B.Brug 0 0-0 0, S.Scanga 0 0-0 0, A.Sullivan 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 32 7-8 80.  3-POINTERS: T.Bassire 4, J.Bassire 3, Martin, Pettit.  TOTAL FOULS: 16.  FOULED OUT: None.

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