Tue Mar 11th, 2014
Special to the Drum
Tags: 2A-Region III Tournament, Anthony Manzanares, chris valdez, clayton jefferson, Cory Cooley, Del Norte, Durango, Ethan Caton, Fort Lewis College, IHS, Justin Carver, kelton richmond, Kyle Beiriger, Kyle Freel, La Plata County, Mosca Thunderbirds, san juan basin league, Sangre de Cristo, Wade Mortensen, Whalen Gymnasium, wyatt hayes
Just how severe was Sangre de Cristo’s scoring drought on Saturday, March 8?
With just two baskets and a free throw during a 20-minute stretch – the second and third quarters, and the first half of the fourth – all that was missing on Whalen Gymnasium’s floor was a desiccated cow skull and tumbleweeds.
After Ignacio’s gunners found what they were after and the range from which to shoot, the Mosca-based Thunderbirds became Victims No. 23 this season to the undefeated Bobcats after falling 49-20 in the 2A-Region III Tournament championship at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
“Like Coach said in the locker room, defense wins championships. And we all just came out and played defense,” senior forward Kelton Richmond said. “We didn’t get beat off the dribble and we boxed out and got our rebounds.”
When combined with the previous evening’s 77-32 drilling of Del Norte in the semifinals, the triumph that had eluded the boys’ program the previous two seasons – denying them the coveted season-ending road trip out to the Front Range – awaits them this weekend.
“You know we talked about it. Told them it was important,” IHS boss Chris Valdez said, referring to the team’s chance to do away with the ghosts of 2012 and ’13, “but not to make it such a big deal that you add pressure on you. Go out and play loose, and have some fun!”
Sophomore guard Wyatt Hayes said the Sangre de Cristo game was good preparation for the state tournament.
“They’re super physical,” he said. “I’m excited to go up there.”
Hayes’s first three-ball against SdC followed two Richmond free throws, but most importantly atoned for earlier missed tries from distance by senior Clayton Jefferson and soph Anthony Manzanares – opening the only potential window of opportunity Sangre would have for a lead. But junior Cory Cooley’s free throws with 6:52 left – 26 ticks before Richmond’s makes – in the first quarter were unsuccessful.
Though the final deficit might indicate otherwise, there was still hope against the San Juan Basin League’s beast for Sangre de Cristo.
Motivated interior play, paced by juniors Ethan Caton and Kyle Freel – plus Cooley’s well-timed three-pointer late – had the Birds within two, 12-10, late in the first, before Bobcat senior Justin Carver sank two post-buzzer free throws after a foul in the lane against Sangre junior Kyle Beiriger.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t carry through with it very good,” head coach Wade Mortensen said. “And that’s to Ignacio’s credit. They’re a good team, and most of the game they were definitely the aggressive team, offensively and defensively.”
Hayes’s other assassin-style trey came immediately after Mortensen called a timeout to try slowing the La Plata County locals’ enthusiasm growing from a Richmond eight-footer and Manzanares breakaway layup – upping Ignacio’s lead to 18-10 early in the second – resulting from a Hayes steal.
“I think it was the momentum going, for sure,” Hayes said of his latter dagger. “But it’s this team that gets me going, so it was fun to get out there and go play.”
A Caton free throw later interrupted what ended as a 10-0 Ignacio run, but with only 0:15 before halftime it came as little comfort; conventional attempts, contested or not, simply were not falling for Sangre (15-9 overall), which trailed 24-11 through 16 completed regulation minutes.
“Yeah, we rebounded hard…worked harder overall that first quarter,” said Caton, who managed the Thunderbirds’ next five points before reserve and lone senior Brandon Beiriger buried a three in the game’s last moments. “And we … didn’t as much the rest of the game. That’s what happened.”
Richmond said the Cats knew they would have to manage Caton to win.
“He was averaging like 17 points a game … we knew we just had to try to cut him in half,” he said, “and make the rest of the team beat us. They didn’t, so I think we did our job.”
A trio of Jefferson threes during the third quarter, along with junior forward Adison Jones’ first six points, made Ignacio’s advantage 39-13 entering the fourth – in which senior reserve forward John House, the 10th Bobcat to score, capped the victors’ output with a free throw preceding Beiriger’s heave.
“Clayton really stepped up. Everybody really stepped up. Our scoring was really even, so we didn’t have a standout player today. Adi’s a really good team player,” Hayes said. “We’re really unselfish as a team, so that’s really good.”
Jefferson’s 14 points led the Cats against Sangre, with Hayes and Jones each netting six and Carver and Tucker Ward each contributing five. Manzanares and Richmond scored four apiece, while Caton’s dozen made for the majority of the Thunderbirds’ collective product.
Del Norte senior guard Kolby Martinez’s second of three threes had sliced Ignacio’s early lead on day one of the tourney down to just 19-15 with 4:08 before halftime, but triples by Tucker Ward and Jones helped rebuild the Bobcat lead to 33-18 at intermission before two Hayes treys and one apiece by Jones, Manzanares and Jefferson highlighted a decisive, 27-point third.
“Good athletes, good basketball players, well-coached,” Mortensen said. “If we want to compete at that level, we’ve got to learn from a team like Ignacio. … They’ve got a great chance to win it all.”
Jones’s 12 points led IHS against the Tigers (8-15 overall), with Hayes adding 11 and Ward 10. Jefferson finished with nine, while Richmond, Manzanares and sophomore forward Nick Herrera each booked seven. Martinez’s nine led Del Norte, junior Codi Fonk chipped in seven on seven-of-eight foul-line accuracy, and junior post Hayden Bell was held to four points.
“Last year was a heartbreaking loss. Everybody hated it, and everybody put in the work this summer,” Hayes said, “and you could see it.”
Valdez said with the state tournament ahead, the team can’t rest on its laurels.
“We played great defense, but we want to do that every week and we want to do that next week,” he said. “Because we have an opportunity ahead of us. Take one game at a time. … If we can keep them from shooting easy shots when they’ve got a great player like [Caton], I’m really happy.”
Every Cat and coach felt pretty good about receiving the 1-seed in this weekend’s Great Eight bracket, and a quarterfinal-round clash with the eighth-seeded Julesburg-Revere co-op called Sedgwick County (17-7). That begins at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, March 13, with the winner meeting either No. 4 Sanford (23-1) or No. 5 Simla (22-2) Friday at 5:30 p.m. The losers play in Friday’s 1:15 p.m. consolation-round game.
The 2013-14 season’s grand finale is set for 7 p.m. Saturday, March 15 inside CSU-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.
Here’s the figures from Ignacio’s 2A-Region III Tournament semifinals rout (77 to 32) of Del Norte, and finals win (49 to 20) over Sangre de Cristo – both in Fort Lewis College’s Whalen Gymnasium in Durango – boosting the Bobcats’ record to 23-0 entering this weekend’s “Great Eight” in Pueblo:
SEMIFINALS, MAR. 7—Del Norte (9-9-8-6=32): M.Mueller 1 0-0 3, K.Martinez 3 0-0 9, K.Leckler 0 0-0 0, J.Archuleta 0 0-0 0, H.Bell 1 2-2 4, C.Hicks 1 3-4 5, D.Garcia 0 0-0 0, Z.Leckler 0 0-0 0, C.Fonk 0 7-8 7, K.Glover 1 0-0 2, J.Stevenson 1 0-0 2. TOTALS: 8 12-14 32. 3-POINTERS: Martinez 3, Mueller. FOULED OUT: None.
IGNACIO (17-16-27-17=77): W.Hayes 4 0-0 11, J.Carver 3 0-0 6, C.Jefferson 4 0-0 9, K.Richmond 3 1-2 7, A.Jones 4 2-2 12, B.Ward 0 0-1 0, T.Ward 4 1-3 10, S.Corrado 2 0-0 4, A.Manzanares 2 1-2 7, N.Herrera 2 3-4 7, J.House 2 0-0 4. TOTALS: 30 8-14 77. 3-POINTERS: Hayes 3, Manzanares 2, T.Ward, Jones 2, Jefferson. FOULED OUT: None.
FINALS, MAR. 8—Sangre de Cristo (10-1-2-7=20): K.Beiriger 0 0-0 0, E.Caton 3 6-8 12, C.Cooley 1 0-2 3, K.Freel 1 0-0 2, T.Fritz 0 0-0 0, N.Chandler 0 0-0 0, B.Beiriger 1 0-0 3, T.Pepper 0 0-0 0, V.Enriquez 0 0-0 0, Z.Horning 0 0-0 0, J.Garcia 0 0-0 0, T.Freel 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 6 6-10 20. 3-POINTERS: Cooley, B.Beiriger. FOULED OUT: None.
IGNACIO (14-10-15-10=49): W.Hayes 2 0-0 6, A.Manzanares 2 0-0 4, C.Jefferson 5 0-0 14, K.Richmond 1 2-2 4, A.Jones 2 2-3 6, T.Ward 2 0-0 5, B.Ward 0 0-2 0, J.Carver 1 3-4 5, S.Corrado 1 0-0 2, N.Herrera 1 0-0 2, J.House 0 1-2 1. TOTALS: 17 8-13 49. 3-POINTERS: Hayes 2, T.Ward, Jefferson 4. FOULED OUT: Richmond (5:28 left, Q4).