“Third” is the award for Bobcat boys

The Ignacio Bobcats
Ignacio Bobcat loyalists
Clayton Jefferson (11)
The Ignacio Bobcats present the third-place trophy after defeating Parker Lutheran, 59-50, on Day 3 of the CHSAA Class 2A State Basketball Tournament, held inside CSU-Pueblo's Massari Arena.
Ignacio Bobcat loyalists show their allegiance during IHS' meeting with Parker Lutheran in the third-place game of the CHSAA Class 2A State Basketball Tournament, Day 3 in Pueblo.
Ignacio senior Clayton Jefferson (11) leaps towards the rim inside CSU-Pueblo's Massari Arena against Sedgwick County on Thurs., Mar. 13, leaving Cougar Gage Garnas (34) behind and helpless to defend.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

IHS finishes 25-1 by beating Lions at State

Still regularly dubbed Colorado’s “Steel City,” four Congressional Medal of Honor recipients/residents justified the rise of Pueblo’s nickname as the ‘Home of Heroes.’

But for one weekend each March, it also becomes a City of Champions—whether first time or multi-time—when the three-day CHSAA State Basketball Tournament and all its competing squads roll into town from the varied expanses within the Centennial State’s rectangle.

“It’s… a great feeling,” said Ignacio senior guard Clayton Jefferson.  “Just got to work hard; when you get here… it’s worth it once you get here.”

“It’s tough,” concurred senior forward Kelton Richmond.  “Last time I was here I was a freshman, didn’t play much.  And then, two years of not making it…you just want to get back here and win it all.”

“All these games mean everything; you never know if it’s going to be your last win, last loss, whatever,” senior center Justin Carver added.  “You’ve just got to go out there and play with your heart.”

And though the Bobcats did from arrival to departure, an upset loss on Day 2 denied IHS Basketball its first state title since a 73-65 win over Basalt for the A-I championship in 1988.  Determined not to leave without some fresh filler for the trophy case however, Ignacio recovered to take third in 2014, with a day three triumph—their 25th win against just one defeat—over Parker-based Lutheran.

“I’m not going to take anything away from what they did,” head coach Chris Valdez said, following the setback to Sanford, “and I’m not going to take anything away from what we did this season.  Our kids went 24-0 [starting the season]…our school has never done that, you know?”

“I think the best, final four teams were in this ‘Final Four.” Valdez said.

“You know, honestly, making it this far with this team being so close,” said senior reserve guard Sam Corrado, “I think it means a lot more than I’ve ever expected.”

“It means a lot,” sophomore guard Wyatt Hayes said, of the State experience. “We have to get stronger and more physical, because up here…they [referees] don’t call as much.  But if we put in the work in the offseason we can do it next year!”

QUARTERFINALS

#8 Sedgwick County at #1 Ignacio, Thurs., Mar. 13:  Called Cougars, and culled from student-athletes at former northeasterly rivals Julesburg and Ovid-based Revere, Sedgwick County was only a match for IHS—at least on paper—in distance from CSU-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.

And when Hayes hit a game-opening two-pointer and junior Adison Jones deftly followed with an intimidating three, there was a quick business-as-usual feel to the game.  But SC did have one thing in their favor which the ’Cats did not:  A fairly-recent, shock-driven State Championship, won in ’08 after beginning in the bracket as…that’s right…the 8-seed.

“It was exciting, it was a little nerve-wracking, you know?” laughed Valdez, after seeing his squad separate late to win 49-33.  “And the kids played great, played mediocre at times—our defense kept us in it while our offense really struggled shooting-wise.”

A late Tucker Ward trey helped IHS build a 16-8 lead after the opening quarter, but the Cougars kept their heads and traded point-for-point with the ’Cats throughout the entire second quarter—creeping back to as close as 22-20 on a Chad Mikelson three before Ignacio, using another Jones triple, regrouped to lead 27-22 at the intermission.

But consecutive weakside lay-ins by SC soph Tyler Woodhams early in the third again had the underdog chasing the biggest dog in the house, and IHS’ advantage was trimmed to 29-26, and ultimately to a slimmest of 29-28 on two free throws by basketball-named senior Chase Dunker with 3:28 left.

Sedgwick County’s morale was boosted as well on the play when Jefferson was called for a frustrating fourth foul, but again…Valdez and his assistants had an answer coming off the bench.  Sophomore Anthony Manzanares countered with a crucially-timed three, Richmond followed promptly with a finger-roll, and IHS forged themselves a 40-30 lead going into the fourth.

“The tallest guy on their team is barely six…two?  Maybe?  So we just needed to go inside a little bit more and we did that,” said the 6’5” Carver.  “Finally got some outside shots, from Anthony—he kind of lit us up there, a big spark.  Had to pull together as a team a little better.”

“They came out with a lot of heart,” he admitted, “but I just think we worked the ball around a little bit better—the second half, especially—which got us more open shots.  I think it went really well.”

“Adi…I don’t know, had ‘teens’ in rebounds—had a double-double today…fantastic job.  Justin came in and got great rebounds for us, and I think that’s where we won the game—rebounding,” Valdez stated.  “And hard defensive effort; we made mistakes on both ends, but we ended up finishing ’em off.”

Dunker’s hoop-and-one was the Cougars’ only points of the final frame, giving him a total of ten, matching Woodhams for the team lead.  Freshman reserve Micheal Nein netted six.

Jones’ 14 paced the ’Cats, while Richmond racked up eight, Manzanares seven and Carver five.

“They pressured us, got within one possession—I think it was—and I thought we kept our composure,” said Jones.  “Just battled back, ended up taking the lead.  In the regular season we hadn’t been tested any, and I felt it was good to be tested.”

“We weren’t on our game, exactly, but I thought…we stayed together as a team, and we all pushed ourselves, you know?” added Corrado.  “That’s what we’ve got to do to stay in this!”

 SEMIFINALS

#4 Sanford at #1 Ignacio, Fri., Mar. 14:  Manzanares had held an unusual, but important position in the team’s pregame routine all season.

“Yeah it is an honor for all these boys,” he said of being the one centering IHS’ swaying circle of a final huddle, formed after the players’ introductions, just prior to tipoff, “and especially for me because I get to share that moment with them…it’s just a special moment to all of us.”

And with 4-seed Sanford—an odd bracket positioning, given that the Indians had followed Ignacio, 1-2, in virtually every ranking going into the postseason—awaiting Valdez’s starting quintet of Hayes, Jefferson, Richmond, Tucker Ward and Jones to officially step onto Harry H. Simmons Court, it was up to Manzanares to make sure the Bobcats’ ‘team chant’ was at maximum volume.

“We’re just trying to get pumped up,” he explained.  “And they just say, ‘IT’S…ABOUT…TO GO…DOWN!  GET ’EM!’  And come out with the spark, the fire that we need to get a win.”

For whatever improbable, cosmic reason against much of the same opposition which had brought about a surprise ending to IHS’ 2011-12 year—denying the ’Cats a State trip—it took nearly 22 minutes against SHS for that ‘spark’ to finally ignite, though yielding only a quick-burning blaze in a 47-37 loss.

“Our defense did enough, but we didn’t score offensively,” said Valdez afterwards.  “Defense is still doing the job, you know; they still weren’t in the fifties scoring-wise!  We’ve still got to put some points on the board; you can’t score two points in a first quarter.”

Jones’ basket with 2:28 left in the first quarter finally got Ignacio on the board, after Sanford had struck with two hoops by 6’5” sophomore forward Chance Canty and one by senior guard Calder Larsen.

And though no one would know it at the time, the four-point deficit would be as close as IHS would approach until Jefferson slashed in to score with 1:53 left in the third—winnowing SHS’ advantage down to 25-21 and pressing Indian boss Rhett Larsen into a timeout.

“The momentum…I was getting excited, you know, like ‘This is our game!’ and ‘It’s ours to lose!’” Richmond said, of the 9-0 run triggered by a Manzanares three after Richmond missed from distance the preceding possession.  “We were the better basketball team, but we just…didn’t execute.”

Something which Sanford appeared ready to do at any cost.  Following Larsen’s instructions, sophomore guard Miles Caldon (7 points) recklessly plowed over and through Carver, somehow got his scoop shot to drop, and earned a free throw when the referee ruled Carver’s feet weren’t fully planted.

His ‘and-one’ attempt was true, SHS led 28-21 going into the fourth quarter, and then led 30-21 when Calder Larsen made 2-of-3 at the stripe after an NBA-grade backwards flop, tricking the nearest striped shirt into calling a foul against an astonished Jefferson following the miss from downtown.

And free throws would greatly aid the Indians down the stretch; Sanford was 11-of-13 in the final frame alone, while Ignacio—trying to capitalize on foul trouble plaguing Canty (14 points) and 6’4” junior Brett Crowther (3)—wasn’t granted a single attempt until Jefferson sank two with just 0:44 remaining.

Jones’ 10 points paced IHS, Manzanares had seven, and Richmond and Carver six each.  Senior Dalton Rodriguez chipped in nine for SHS, Larsen finished with seven and junior Clayton Peterson five.

“We got a little comeback going, and then when we got within seven points…on an inbounds pass, they get an easy layup.  Or we somehow miss a switch and give up a wide-open shot,” said Valdez.  “So you can’t do that and expect to beat a quality team.”

“They have a fantastic defense, don’t get me wrong.  They are one of the best defenses in the state—they’re physical, they can play the post, they’re out in your face on the guards,” he continued.  “We had a tough time attacking the basket and getting the ball to open shooters.”

“They were a lot tougher,” Manzanares said, “talked more—just on top of their game this time.”

“We just didn’t come out as physical; they were just pushing and getting more boards…and just outplayed us physically,” said Richmond.  “We came here to play basketball…got one more game so we’re going to go out and put it on the line for our last game of the year.”

THIRD-PLACE GAME

#2 Parker Lutheran at #1 Ignacio, Sat., Mar. 15:  Saturday’s sunrise over Bartley Boulevard indicated things would indeed look up.  Heck, if not for Ignacio Basketball, maybe for society as a whole.

Incoming clouds two hours before tipoff against 2-seed Lutheran—bettered by 3-seed Akron in the other semi—however, hinted at the possibility of an inbound storm.  It never really came, but the Bobcats created one indoors and the Lions had only some beneficial foul-calling to serve as an umbrella.

LHS junior Brendan Edgerley canned a three to open the game, but when Jones immediately answered in kind, and Hayes then followed from deep in succession, Lutheran had to know they were getting the ‘Ignacio’ which Sanford didn’t.  And that initial advantage would be the only one they’d get.

Jones (14 points) and Hayes (20) each drained another trey in the first, and Jefferson (13) also sank a bomb in helping IHS take a 21-15 lead after eight incendiary minutes, and ultimately a 59-50 victory after the full 32 to depart with the third-place trophy in tow.

“The way we adjusted from going against the 1-3-1 to the man-to-man without losing a step today…really showed what this team is really capable of,” said Valdez.

“And to hold on against a team that rebounds well, that’s quick off the dribble, and one that beat us…it was really nice to see that for the kids!  And for the program; we needed to get something other than fourth place this year, to solidify us as a top team.”

“We knew it was our seniors’ last game, so we all—we were going to give it our best shot to finish the season with a win.  A GOOD win,” Tucker Ward said.  “It was…just another team in the tournament that we had to go through.”

But be not disillusioned; though SHS had denied the ’Cats revenge for a season-ending loss two years ago, the Lions weren’t about to simply grant revenge for 2013’s season-ending loss—also in Durango at regionals—to Ignacio on a silver platter.

Keeping themselves alive with 11-of-15 free-throw accuracy during Quarters 1 and 2, compared to IHS’ 1-of-4, the boys from Parker trailed by just three points, 29-26, at halftime—but did catch a big break when red-hot Hayes’ heave from midcourt rimmed out, nearly a bookend bucket to complement Jones’ second quarter-starting triple.

“It was good,” said Hayes.  “We weren’t used to the gym the first two days, and when we got used to it…we wanted to play for our seniors tonight.  So it was good.”

Hayes floated up a runner his first try of the third and netted it easily.  But LHS’ Josh Clausen dropped in six of his nine points in the frame, and it ended a virtual draw with each team totaling ten points and keeping fans on edge until Jefferson and Hayes each hit two FT’s inside the penultimate 25 seconds.

“We just talked about the game, really, but there was nothing we could do,” said Jefferson, about the aftermath of the previous evening.  “So we just decided to be US—goofy teenagers—and stay loose.”

“Clayton…he had a couple of couple sub-par games,” Valdez noted, “and then he came back to shake that off, play that great in the third-place game…a feather in his cap.”

“They’d knocked us out of it—from going to State—before,” said senior John House, who officially ended the game with a defensive rebound.  “Today we were a lot more relaxed, not as tight.”

“It’s pretty intimidating at first, but once you get in you feel like it’s just another game,” Ward said.  “Like we’ve been doing all year—just go out, do the best, work your hardest and it’ll all work out!”

Senior guard Reilly Carew, a 20-ppg scorer, led the Lions with 15.  Edgerley, Clausen and junior guard James Willis each finished with nine, senior Josh Murphy booked five and senior reserve Devon Holland an unexpected, fourth-quarter three.

Richmond scored seven for Ignacio, Manzanares and soph Nick Herrera two each and Ward one.

“I was proud of them,” said Valdez.  “And I just told the kids how much…I loved them, and I appreciated how hard they’d worked also.”

“I’ve believed in them all year and I’m behind them all the way.”

“It’s an awesome feeling,” House said of the entire event.  “Something to be proud of.”

 

INSIDE THE [STATE TOURNAMENT] BOX:

Figures from the Class 2A Championships in Pueblo

QUARTERFINALS, 3/13—Sedgwick County (8-14-8-3=33): T.Walter 0 0-0 0, C.McKinley 0 0-0 0, T.Woodhams 4 1-2 10, Chas.Dunker 3 3-3 10, G.Garnas 1 0-0 2, Chan.Dunker 0 0-0 0, B.Hackbart 0 0-0 0, M.Nein 3 0-1 6, J.Garnas 0 0-0 0, C.Mikelson 1 2-2 5, B.Stortenbecker 0 0-0 0, S.Schneider 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 12 6-8 33.  3-POINTERS: Chas.Dunker, Woodhams, Mikelson.  FOULED OUT: None.

IGNACIO (16-11-13-9=49): W.Hayes 1 2-3 4, C.Jefferson 1 2-3 4, K.Richmond 4 0-0 8, T.Ward 1 0-1 3, A.Jones 6 0-0 14, A.Manzanares 2 2-2 7, B.Ward 1 0-0 2, J.Carver 1 3-4 5, S.Corrado 0 0-0 0, N.Herrera 1 0-1 2, J.House 0 0-0 0, X.Reynolds 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 18 9-14 49.  3-POINTERS: Jones 2, T.Ward, Manzanares.  FOULED OUT: None.

SEMIFINALS, 3/14Sanford (10-9-9-19=47): C.Larsen 2 3-6 7, D.Rodriguez 2 4-4 9, C.Canty 6 2-4 14, B.Crowther 1 1-2 3, M.Caldon 2 3-3 7, C.Peterson 1 2-2 5, G.Peterson 0 0-0 0, W.Anderson 0 0-0 0, A.Romero 1 0-0 2, K.Jackson 0 0-0 0, A.Chavez 0 0-0 0, J.Smith 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 15 15-21 47.  3-POINTERS: Rodriguez, C.Peterson.  FOULED OUT: None.

IGNACIO (2-7-12-16=37): W.Hayes 1 0-2 3, C.Jefferson 1 2-2 4, K.Richmond 1 4-8 6, T.Ward 0 1-2 1, A.Jones 4 0-0 10, A.Manzanares 3 0-0 7, B.Ward 0 0-0 0, J.Carver 3 0-1 6, S.Corrado 0 0-0 0, N.Herrera 0 0-0 0, J.House 0 0-0 0, X.Reynolds 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 13 7-15 37.  3-POINTERS: Jones 2, Manzanares, Hayes.  FOULED OUT: Richmond (2:42 left, Q4).

THIRD-PLACE GAME, 3/15Parker Lutheran (15-11-10-14=50): J.Clausen 2 5-6 9, J.Willis 3 3-4 9, R.Carew 6 3-5 15, J.Murphy 1 3-4 5, B.Edgerley 3 2-2 9, C.Morelock 0 0-0 0, A.Nemmers 0 0-0 0, N.Sanchez 0 0-0 0, G.Cueva 0 0-0 0, D.Holland 1 0-0 3, D.Williamson 0 0-0 0, T.Rich 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 16 16-21 50.  3-POINTERS: Edgerley, Holland.  FOULED OUT: Murphy (3:26 left, Q4), Clausen (0:23 left, Q4).

IGNACIO (21-8-10-20=59): W.Hayes 7 4-5 20, J.Carver 0 0-0 0, C.Jefferson 3 6-8 13, K.Richmond 3 0-3 7, A.Jones 4 3-4 14, A.Manzanares 0 2-2 2, B.Ward 0 0-0 0, T.Ward 0 1-2 1, S.Corrado 0 0-0 0, N.Herrera 1 0-0 2, J.House 0 0-0 0, X.Reynolds 0 0-0 0.  TOTALS: 18 16-24 59.  3-POINTERS: Jones 3, Hayes 2, Jefferson, Richmond.  FOULED OUT: None.

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