Badgers bounce Bobcats from contention

Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez, back right, appreciates the sight of his upbeat starting five – the Bobcats’ usual lineup this season – prior to tipoff Monday evening, March 15, in Limon. From left: senior Brady McCaw (1), junior Gabe Tucson (3), senior Joe Garcia (23), senior Bryce Finn (33) and senior Dylan Labarthe (12).
Ignacio assistant coach Damon White Thunder makes sure senior Dylan Labarthe (12) is ready to rock prior to tipoff Monday evening, March 15, in Limon. The Bobcats met the Badgers in the Class 2A State Tournament’s ‘Great Eight’ phase.
Ignacio senior Bryce Finn (33) blocks the shot of Limon’s Camden Smithburg (5) during Class 2A State Tournament ‘Great Eight’ action Monday evening, March 15, at LHS.
Ignacio junior Gabe Tucson (3) prepares to leap for a close-range shot in traffic versus Crested Butte during Class 2A State Tournament Round-of-24 play Tuesday night, March 9, inside IHS Gymnasium. Tucson scored 14 points against the Titans in a wild 54-51 victory.
Ignacio senior Brady McCaw (1) skies to defend the shot of Crested Butte’s Alan Prieto (25) during Class 2A State Tournament Round-of-24 play Tuesday night, March 9, inside IHS Gymnasium. Offensively, McCaw netted a Bobcat-best 15 points (Prieto’s 20 paced all players) in a wild 54-51 victory.
Ignacio junior Gabe Tucson prepares to shoot before Limon big Alex Carr (21) can arrive to defend during the Class 2A State Tournament ‘Great Eight’ action Monday evening, March 15, at LHS.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

IHS boys fall in 2A ‘Great Eight,’ 71-39

In order to give his regulars, particularly his seniors, one final applause-accompanied curtain-call exit of sorts Monday night, March 15, Chris Valdez gave his substitutes the go-ahead to report to the scorer’s table. 

Having watched for nearly four quarters what they’d be encountering, the youngest reserves, rather than leap to their feet like on most occasions during the 2020-21 basketball campaign, appeared just as eager to hold down the bench. 

Beware the Ides of March, indeed…. 

When I looked at them like, ‘Are you ready?’ they all shook their heads ‘No!’” Valdez recalled, following Ignacio’s season-ending 71-39 loss at Limon in the Class 2A State Tournament’s ‘Great Eight’ phase (due to COVID-19 precautions, the Colorado High School Activities Association elected to make this year’s stage single-elimination, rather than a 2- and possibly 3-day spectacle as common in years past). 

“I was like, ‘Well, good!  Get out there anyway!’  They didn’t want to have anything to do with (LHS),” he continued with a laugh.  “(But) they’ve got to be out there; when we aren’t going to win…get ’em out there!  Get them a minute or two.  They’re here and they’re going to be the future of Ignacio Basketball, and we’ll be ready next time.” 

Their slated 3/13 arrival inside the 2-seed Badgers’ den delayed by two days, per CHSAA decree in order to allow a winter storm to blitz through much of northern and eastern Colorado, following a 51-39 ‘Sweet 16’ victory on the 11th at No. 7 Sanfordthe No. 10 Bobcats fell off Limon’s pace early as 6’5” senior Alex Carr netted the game’s first five points, and 6’0” senior Kory Tacha the next five with a three-pointer and shorter deuce before Valdez called timeout with 5:08 still left in the first quarter. 

Nailed consecutively, two more Tacha treys hurriedly inflated LHS’ pad to 16-5, and though IHS senior Bryce Finn buried a triple with less than a minute remaining, the Badgers (15-1 overall) re-doubled their lead to 20-10 after eight completed minutes with senior Camden Smithburg zipping a perfect no-look pass to Carr for an easy buzzer-beating bucket. 

Junior backup Brady Rockwell began the second stanza converting a steal into a layup, and freshman brother Jordan promptly followed with a 17-footer from the right wing with 7:19 left until halftime.  Ignacio senior Dylan Labarthe responded with an unexpected three out of the corner, but the 24-13 deficit would be as close as the ’Cats would get, and Carr all but guaranteed as much to his side’s supporters with a harsh two-handed transition dunk—rebuilding Limon’s lead to 30-13 – with 4:44 remaining. 

Bobcat senior guard Brady McCaw cashed a triple – his first basket in the contest – with 0:27 left, but the visitors would go into the locker room trailing 39-20 and eventually see the margin widen to a max of 57-22 after Tacha drained back-to-back threes.  IHS junior Gabe Tucson then managed to bank in a left-wing trey at the buzzer, but there would be no climbing out of a 57-25 chasm. 

I thought we did a real good job just executing what we wanted … got the shots we wanted,” said LHS head coach Dirk Pedersen.  “They don’t go down like that every game; I mean, we were fortunate tonight to make a lot of shots – the kids did a really good job tonight against a really good team.” 

“When your shots are falling that makes basketball a lot easier,” Tacha said.  “We knew that Ignacio was going to come out here and play hard, so our goal was to match their intensity and come out just as hard, you know?  The coach over there has them playing hard all the time, and … our main goal was to slow them down, and for us to start fast on offense.” 

Able to at last ignite for three swift threes beginning the final frame, McCaw would book an Ignacio-best 12 points while Finn sank one final trey to finish with 11 points.  The only starter able to return next season, Tucson totaled seven points while Labarthe registered nine after canning two free throws – the game’s final points, as it turned out – with 2:09 left, triggering the aforementioned influx of second-stringers, representing both sides. 

Well we knew between Gabe [Tucson] and the McCaw kid and Finn that we had to limit their opportunities, and we did our best to try to make it rough for them,” Pedersen said.  “And I thought our kids did a good job defensively … we took our chances with their other kids, but those three are really good; we knew they were going to be a handful.” 

Carr racked up 21 points in just over three quarters’ work, while Tacha netted 19 in roughly the same court time.  Smithburg and 6’4” senior post John Jaklich each logged eight, while Jordan Rockwell finished with six and Brady Rockwell four. 

You know, we ran into a bulldozer,” said Valdez, whose ’Cats made more shots from beyond (8) the three-point arc than inside (5) of it.  “They are so good offensively and so physical defensively – it’s hard to match that.” 

“They’re going to win the whole thing,” he added.  “I’ll put that on the line right now.” 

But with the Bobcats’ season also including a 54-51 home win Tues., March 9, over No. 23 Crested Butte in the Round-of-24 – preceding the stunner at SHS – the boss wasn’t hesitant in attaching the adjective ‘overachieving’ to his own 14-3 squad. 

I’m not taking anything away from them, or from us.  I mean, we had a great season – didn’t have one practice or one shoot-around since last year in the final eight, until this season started!” he said.  “We’re proud of the kids for their effort.  And our seniors…. They got us here three times – into the State Tournament—and I’m proud of them.” 


Correctly predicted into the March 20 grand finale inside The Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, the Badgers nearly backed up Valdez’s claim, but after ousting 3-seed Peyton 60-38 on the 18th in semifinals action, fell 56-50 in overtime versus No. 1 Wray – the only team to trip them during regular-season play, 72-66 at LHS back on Feb. 27. 

Recipient of a bye in the State Tournament’s opening Round-of-24, the Eagles improved to 16-0 following a title run through No. 16 Monte Vista (8-6), No. 8 Sedgwick County (11-5), No. 4 Yuma (9-4) and, ultimately, Limon (16-2). 

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