Fri Apr 9th, 2021
Special to the Drum
Tags: 2A/1A San Juan Basin League, Bobcats Boys Basketball, Bryce Finn, chris valdez, Class 2A State Tournament’s ‘Great Eight, Coach-of-the-Year, Dylan LaBarthe, first team all league, FIRST TEAM ALL-SJBL PICKS, Gabe Tucson, Ignacio Boys Basketball, Lawrence Valdez, Limon, senior guard Brady McCaw, State Championship runs, State title
McCaw, Labarthe snag Second Team status
Though a State title yet again eluded the program, the Bobcats – particularly the upperclassmen – knew they’d again elevated Ignacio Boys’ Basketball this winter to contenders’ height, which only a couple years ago wasn’t reached.
To players like current senior forward Bryce Finn, that was unacceptable.
“My sophomore year – the 10-and-10 season – I just remember that all of us, like, didn’t feel that we were ‘Ignacio Basketball’ players,” he recalled. “The year before that we’d went to State … and then we lost all our seniors – and Lawrence (Valdez) too – but we just thought we were good. We went into games big-headed like ‘Oh yeah, we’re Ignacio! We can beat whoever!’ and then we ended up choking.”
“A bunch of the other teams we played … they didn’t lose many seniors from the year before, so it was definitely like a wake-up call: We need to focus more,” said senior guard Brady McCaw. “We can’t make that assumption that all teams are going to be an easy win; we need to put in the work now.”
“I remember after that season how mad people were in the locker room after we lost at districts – two straight games – and didn’t even qualify for regionals,” Finn added. “People were so mad that it pushed us hard. We didn’t want to be remembered as ‘that’ team; we wanted to be remembered as a team that had three State Championship runs in our careers.”
“Coming into junior year we spent a lot of time at the rec – like every Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights they’d hold games so we’d go play there – to get ready for the season,” said McCaw. “And when the season came we just noticed an immediate improvement.”
“Weren’t scared of varsity level any more … . And then this year it was just ‘Let’s get this done!’”
Unluckily pit against size-blessed Limon in the Class 2A State Tournament’s ‘Great Eight,’ IHS’ supreme dream ran out of steam, but following an undefeated 10-0 sprint through the 2A/1A San Juan Basin League and 14-3 overall finish – all amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, and resulting Colorado High School Activities Association-mandated safety measures including last season’s sudden termination following ‘Great Eight’ play, then a delayed, abbreviated 2020-21 campaign – recognition was definitely warranted.
Some came recently as All-SJBL nominations, with Finn and junior guard Gabe Tucson tabbed First Team All-League.
“Knowing that you were one of the best in your conference three years straight,” said Finn, also named First Team following the ’19-20 and ’18-19 slates, “I kind of get emotional about it … coming to the end of an era where I won’t have the opportunity to get those awards anymore.”
“The hours people don’t see – going to the rec center at 5 a.m., lifting weights, shooting, then going back and playing games – can really change a player,” he stressed, virtually advising future cagers, “make him one of the best ever at school.”
Head coach Chris Valdez was voted Coach-of-the-Year, having helped mold members of the aforementioned 10-10 squad into a machine which went a combined 32-8 overall the past two years. Counting the lamented season, IHS still posted an outstanding three-year, 28-3 mark against all regular-season SJBL (21-3 versus its 2A crews) resistance.
McCaw and senior center/forward Dylan Labarthe were named Second Team All-League.
“I missed games this season, so I wasn’t really able to prove myself,” said McCaw, a First Team selection last season, slowed during early goings this year by an injured right ankle, “but it feels nice. I know I put in work to get it, felt I deserved it.”
“We kind of started getting introduced to varsity our freshman year, but we never really got to play,” he reflected. “Now we’re like brothers, really. We spend a lot of time playing basketball, staying at the hotel rooms just bonding … . It brought us together real nice; it glued us together. We’re all best friends and it feels nice to have ’em with me.”
Like graduated older brother Caden before him, Mancos junior Connor Showalter earned Player-of-the-Year after leading – along with First Team All-SJBL pick Evan Sehnert and Second Teamer Edgar Hernandez – the Blue Jays to a 13-3 record, including a State Tournament home win (74-67, 2OT) over Westcliffe Custer County in the opening Round-of-24.
Seeded No. 9 in the bracket, MHS’ season came to an end in the ‘Sweet 16’ via a 57-52 loss to Julesburg-based, eighth-seeded Sedgwick County (CCHS had been the No. 24). After holding off No. 23 Crested Butte 54-51 inside IHS Gymnasium and then stopping 7-seed Sanford 51-39 away, No. 10 Ignacio’s championship drive ended with a 71-39 loss at 2-seed LHS.
None of the San Juan Basin’s 1A teams – Dove Creek (7-6, 7-3 SJBL, 3-1 1A SJBL) was tops – qualified for State.