Mid-schoolers manhandle all at SJBLs

Ignacio Middle School's “A” team members
Ignacio Middle School's Kai Roubideaux
Ignacio Middle School's Kruz Pardo
Ignacio Middle School's Calvin Lovato
Ignacio Middle School's “A” team members, including Cole McCaw (4), swarm Kruz Pardo (23) and Jaden Maez (55) to get a look at the championship plaque after three consecutive wins at the San Juan Basin League Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 7 inside Telluride High's MinerDome.
Ignacio Middle School's Kai Roubideaux (33) chooses to lead a fast break upcourt against Dolores during the San Juan Basin League Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 7 inside Telluride High's MinerDome.
Ignacio Middle School's Kruz Pardo (23) leaps to score over a Telluride defender during the San Juan Basin League Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 7 inside Telluride High's MinerDome.
Ignacio Middle School's Calvin Lovato fights through a Mancos defender's hack to draw a foul during the San Juan Basin League Tournament on Saturday, Dec. 7 inside Telluride High's MinerDome.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

IMS finishes title-taking season 16-3

Eighteenth-century Frenchman Voltaire once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

And therein lies the answer to outside observers’ commonly-asked question of why Ignacio High School boys’ basketball seems so strong year after year: Maintaining of such a reputation starts small.

Middle-school small, that is – where kids’ dreams of one day wearing IHS red-and-white truly begin materializing, and where coaches are eager to bear the responsibility of shaping such dreams.

“Just get ’em in the head: Work hard, play hard,” said IHS alum Tim Velasquez, former Lamar (Colo.) Community College Runnin’ Lope and current junior-varsity coach, previously a skipper at Ignacio Junior High. “Play every second, every possession and you guys will be great. Leave it all on the floor so you’ll have no regrets later.”

The last chance to do so in 2013 for the current crop of middle-school Cats, on boss Johnny Valdez’s “A” roster, came Saturday, Dec. 7 in Telluride at the San Juan Basin League Tournament.

And with nothing being left in reserve, nothing was left to chance. Needing just one six-minute quarter against Telluride, Mancos and Dolores Middle schools to decisively separate ­– leading 18-7, 15-1 and 15-4, respectively – Ignacio Middle School left THS’ MinerDome with the championship plaque.

“They really dominated every game they played, when they were prepared to play. That was about 95 percent of the games,” Valdez said, looking back at a 16-3 season. “Today’s games? All of the kids were ready. They were excited to play. They wanted to be the champions. They were the regular-season champions, but they wanted to win the tournament.”

“We had the confidence coming in as the No. 1 seed,” said guard Kruz Pardo, who officially totaled 27 points to go with an unofficial 10 assists. “Just wanted to take over our league; for us eighth-graders, we just wanted to go home league champs … get revenge from last year.”

With 11 of his 13 Cats contributing points, Valdez saw his young men thoroughly dominate Telluride, 56-31, in their first action of the morning. Miner seventh-grader Ian Enkema’s perfect heave and swish from halfcourt ending the third quarter, however, set off a flurry of threes in the fourth that made the game much closer than it was; Dolores, who’d ripped Ridgway 52-17 in the previous contest, saw Ignacio outscore Telluride 18-1 in the second and then 14-8 in the third to build a 50-16 lead in just 18 minutes.

After Joel Balderrama’s Cubs then eliminated Norwood 41-19, Ignacio likewise ousted Mancos, 40-16, after opening on a 10-0 run. But the scoring similarity was almost by design: The Cats purposely slowed down in the second half to fine-tune their half-court offense and conserve energy for the grand finale, knowing 2-seed Dolores was waiting.

“We were preparing for it,” said Pardo, aware like his teammates of Dolores’s sizable seventh-grade front-liners Tristan Swaggerty and Forrest Pesja and eighth-grade backcourt leader Justin Purkat. “And we know what they run, how they play their defense; we just came out ready.”

Purkat polished off the game with a deep, confident three, but his second-quarter absence, due to a rolled right ankle, was all the Bobcats needed to inflate their first-quarter advantage into something unapproachable at halftime: 35-12, capped by eighth-grade guard Johnny Valdez’s buzzer-beating runner in the lane, off a long Kai Roubideaux outlet.

The only daylight Dolores saw in the 53-24 loss was after Ignacio began the game on a 6-0 burst, applying a solid full-court press defensively but also committing several turnovers due to errant passing. Balderrama, also Dolores High’s “C” team coach, called timeout to alert his team to that fact while Valdez simply restated to his side what they already knew.

“All I did was explain to them, ‘You’re doing everything right. You will get the steals; play defense with your feet – don’t play with your hands – and next thing you know, you’re going to get five or six easy steals for baskets,’” he said. “And they did; it changed the momentum of the entire game and the complexion of what they were trying to do to us.”

Ignacio’s cushion through three frames, 41-17, was comfortable enough to turn the last 360 seconds into a virtual curtain-call, with Valdez regularly rotating players in and out for ovations from their fans – all before the eyes of Telluride High head coach Mike Hughes, knowing an older, but just-as-skilled and hungry bunch of Bobcats would be coming to visit just five days later.

“The stuff we’re teaching up here at the high-school level, we’re teaching them down there at the junior-high level,” Velasquez said. “So when they’re coming in here, they’re already in the program, ready to go in all this. We’re just trying to tell them defense … hustling, hard work can get you there.”

Ocean Hunter led Ignacio against Telluride with 10 points, with Roubideaux, Natoni Cundiff and Marcus Chapman each scoring eight and Pardo six for the cause. Against Mancos, Pardo led with 12 and again the supporting balance was there with five points each from Johnny Valdez, Lawrence Valdez, Cole McCaw and Calvin Lovato.

And versus Dolores, Roubideaux was the high man with 11 points (to go with six rebounds and five assists). Pardo dropped nine (with five and three), Johnny Valdez scored eight, Chapman seven, Lovato six, McCaw five, Hunter four, and Lawrence Valdez three to close the book.

The meaning of all that math?

“Means that we’re the champions,” Roubideaux said. “Just feels good to win!”

“We had a great season,” Valdez said. “Started off a little shaky, had a real tough game with Bayfield at the beginning and lost. And the kids really responded well, played well all year.”

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