Fri Mar 20th, 2015
Special to the Drum
Categories: Top Stories
Tags: Adison Jones, Anthony Manzanares, Bobcat, chris valdez, Class 2A State Basketball Championships, Colorado High School Activities Association, CSU-Pueblo’s Massari Arena, Final Four, Great Eight, Indians, Kruz Pardo, La Plata County, Loveland Resurrection Christian, Rye, Sanford, Santa Fe League, Simla, Southern Ute Indian Reservation, tucker ward, wyatt hayes, Xavier Reynolds
Again denied by Sanford, ’Cats again save third
If there was one thing Ignacio would have loathed more than yet another loss to non-league nemesis Sanford – spoiling IHS’ shot at facing top-ranked, top-seeded Loveland Resurrection Christian for all the season’s marbles – it would have been leaving the 2015 Class 2A State Basketball Championships empty-handed.
That simply wasn’t an option, and with a 69-52 defeat of Simla on Saturday, March 14, the 23-3 Bobcat boys made sure some sort of trophy would join them in making the return trip to La Plata County and the heart of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
“It felt good just to get back to what we know, what we’re doing,” said senior forward Adison Jones, who accepted the third-place trophy from Colorado High School Activities Association Assistant Commissioner Jenn Roberts-Uhlig upon the ThunderWolves emblem adorning midcourt inside CSU-Pueblo’s Massari Arena.
“To get one last win felt good.”
“Amazing,” senior guard Xavier Reynolds said. “It just shows we’re a team, one of the best in Colorado.”
“It feels great,” agreed junior guard Anthony Manzanares. “Even though it’s third place we feel like we just won a first-place championship. We’re just playing for our seniors, our team, and playing for our community.”
Which, as always, will be expectant come this November when the 2015-16 campaign gets underway.
“Yeah it looks good,” freshman guard Kruz Pardo predicted. “I mean, we have freshmen on the varsity team, we have sophomores, and we’re going to be a good team when we get older! And if we come back here I think we have a good chance to win it all.”
DAY ONE: #6 RYE 38, #3 IGNACIO 45
Staving off disaster on day one in the Steel City, the Cats got nine fourth-quarter points from a foul-plagued Jones, and collective 9-of-10 free-throw shooting in the frame to hold off the game Thunderbolts by seven in the tournament’s initial ‘Great Eight’ stage.
“It was going pretty bad, but I just had to keep my head. Support the team – that’s all I could pretty much do!” Jones said. “And just come out in the second half and play my heart out for those guys.”
Struggling to bang with RHS’ sizable backcourt players, IHS’ talented guards were held to 14 first-half points, with junior Wyatt Hayes netting 11 to help Ignacio overcome a forgettable first eight minutes – after which they trailed 5 to 2 – and take a slim 16-15 lead into halftime.
“We knew they were strong – knew they were a big football team,” said junior Tucker Ward, who had the guards’ other three first-half points. “So that’s how we prepared for them!”
“Yeah,” concurred Hayes, who finished with a game-high 16 points.“I was just trying to get us a little confidence,” he continued. “Our first half was pretty rough, and I thought getting us the lead at halftime would get us pumped up.”
And indeed his marksmanship did, but also had an awakening effect on the Santa Fe League’s champions, who fought tooth and nail to re-take a 30-26 lead – preserved by blocking a Ward shot and having Jones’ subsequent three-pointer rattle out at the buzzer – entering the fourth quarter.
Hayes’ third trey of the game briefly put the 3-seed Cats back in front, 31-30, but 6-seed Rye responded with one by senior forward Ty Zupancic. Having seen enough of that resilience, Jones immediately drained a three.
But the Bolts still weren’t done, and put the proverbial screws to Ignacio when sophomore forward Kevin Bailey barged inside on Jones and also drew a foul, resulting in a three-point play and 36-35 lead with 2:35 left.
IHS, though, was able to answer one last, decisive time and Ward sank two FT’s with 0:55 left for a 39-36 advantage, which grew to the final score via FT’s, two at a time, by Manzanares, Jones and Hayes.
DAY TWO: #3 IGNACIO 54, #2 SANFORD 65
Valdez, like his players, knew what IHS was in for it when the Friday evening ‘Final Four’ showdown arrived, and white-and-green uniforms filling the opposing bench.
“We know how they play, they know how we play,” he’d said after stopping Rye. “And, you know, they’re a great team; we’re going to have a tough time, but we’re going to play our tails off.”
“Whoever fights until the end is going to win the game.”
Regretfully for those backing the red-and-white, it was 2-seed Sanford; Ignacio never got closer than 15-13 late in the first quarter, after consecutive Hayes treys pulled the Cats back to 15-13 after threes by junior guard Miles Caldon and senior forward Clayton Peterson helped put the Indians well ahead early, 13 to 5.
Peterson’s second long ball in the quarter later offset Hayes’ third and the defending State Champions – riding a 44-game winning streak dating back to January 2014 – would lead 20-13 when the quarter was completed.
SHS senior guard Adam Romero started the second with a triple in response to a Manzanares deuce, but after Herrera sent an errant pass into the seats, Caldon (16 points) sank one FT and missed a second, but junior forward Griffen Peterson snatched the rebound and the ball quickly found its way into junior reserve forward Jay Smith’s hands and he was awarded three FT’s after being fouled.
All three went in, Sanford went up 27-15, and soon were up 29-15 after a Caldon take to the hole. Pardo drilled a three to interrupt the run, but a three from each Peterson had the Indians taking a 33-21 lead into the break.
Three Jones third-quarter threes had IHS back to 41-34, but the final frame began with SHS still up 45-36.
Salting their victory away at the charity stripe, the Indians were 12-of-19 in fourth-quarter FT’s – making them 24-of-35 for the game – while the Bobcats again were dead-on, hitting 8-of-8 for a final 13-of-20 figure.
Pardo finished with eight points, but Ward was held to four and Herrera just two. Romero (13 pts., 5-10 FT) and Griffen Peterson (11) also dropped double digits for SHS, Smith had three points, as did senior guard Dustin Faucette.
DAY 3: #4 SIMLA 52, #3 IGNACIO 69
With it seeming like decades since a victory over Sanford, let alone a state title, Ignacio fans and players were ready to re-generate optimism for next winter against 4-seed Simla.
Manzanares began the game with a bucket, but the slow-developing contest would enter its second quarter with the Cats only leading 7-6 after senior Wyatt Rector first got the designated ‘visitors’ on the scoreboard. Hayes began the second with a steal and score, and though Ward picked up his third foul with 5:36 before intermission, the Cubs would get only as close as 14-12 before Hayes ignited and burned SHS for three threes, putting Ignacio ahead 28-16 after 16 regulation minutes.
“I thought we could extend the lead in that second quarter, but then we got some kids in foul trouble and we had to rotate some younger kids in. And it messed with our chemistry out there a little bit,” said Valdez.
“The first two games up here, we were in deficits both first quarters, so we were fighting from behind. It was a lot easier to keep our confidence up with a slightly even game.”
Ward, Herrera and Manzanares all found themselves with three or more fouls with 4:14 left in the third, and senior guard Kyler Hamacher’s three-pointer got Simla back to 33-28, but seven Manzanares points during the last 1:45 helped fuel a clinching 11-5 spree.
“Our defense wasn’t there last night, you know,” said Manzanares. “They were a lot quicker on the ball and we just wanted to come out and play good defense. Our offense would come.”
Leading 44-33 when the 2014-15 season’s last 480 seconds began expiring, the Cats withstood an 11-point eruption by Cub senior guard/forward Cody Norris and six more from Hamacher and put the game away Sanford-style – sinking 18-of-25 at the foul line for a 26-of-37 total.
“They bring longevity, kids who stick it out for four years. And there are a lot of kids who don’t nowadays; they’ll play a few years – ‘I’ll just come out when I’m a junior or senior.’ They were in the program the whole time,” Valdez said. “They understood what we did and they’re what holds our program together.”
Hayes finished with a game-best 23 points and was 7-of-12 at the stripe in the fourth, and Manzanares finished with an impressive 18, including a Hayes-like trio of triples. Herrera (7-11 FT) notched seven fourth-quarter points and totaled nine, and Ward and Pardo each ended with three.
“Well I was nervous at first, you know; it’s the State tournament and I’m a freshman,” said Pardo. “I was a little surprised, but I just went out and tried to play relaxed had a couple opportunities to score and I took ’em!”
Norris finished with 17 points for Simla (final record of 23-4), Hamacher had 11 and junior forward Jason George, one of four Cubs listed at 6 feet, 4 inches tall, scraped together ten points. He, with 2:16 left in the game, Ward (1:15 left) and Rector (0:51 left) all fouled out.
Extending their win streak to 46 – tied for fourth-best in CHSAA annals – Sanford (27-0) ended tops in 2A for another season, via a 47-44 overtime victory over RCS (25-1), despite lacking injured standout Chance Canty.
Winning the consolation side of the bracket, 7-seed Holyoke ended up fifth after edging No. 5 Meeker 48-47.
RHS (21-5) and 8-seed Burlington (18-7) were both tough outs on Day 2, but were eliminated – the Thunderbolts 66-61 by HHS, and the Cougars 39-37 by MHS – and did not see action on the season’s final day.