Fri Mar 18th, 2016
Special to the Drum
Tags: Anthony Manzanares, Austin McCaw, Bobcat, Chase Sanchez, chris valdez, CHSAA Class 2A State Championships, Dragons, Eagles, Holyoke, Ignacio, Joaquin King, Johnny Valdez, Kai Roubideaux, Kruz Pardo, Lower Platte League, Massari Arena, Paonia, Thunderhawks, tucker ward, wyatt hayes
Paonia slips away from Cats on Day 3
Autographing young fan Trajan Garcia’s shirt after a difficult and, to longtime bracket-trackers and spectators inside Massari Arena, unexpected exit from the CHSAA Class 2A State Championships, Anthony Manzanares took a little time to savor what it is to be a Bobcat cager.
“It’s memories I’ll never forget,” said the senior guard, after netting 11 points in a 46-41 loss to Paonia in the fifth-place contest on the event’s third and final day inside Colorado State University-Pueblo’s venue. “It’s always been our goal to make it here, you know. It’s been fun playing with these guys, giving it our all.”
“We made it to the State tournament … three out of four years … It felt great for us seniors just to come back one more time,” senior forward Austin McCaw (six points) said. “It’s a lot of last-time playing … just wanted to come out and give a good game.”
Head coach Chris Valdez said the Bobcats’ heads were down, following a Day 2 victory over Ellicott and alluding to a heartbreaking Day 1 loss to Holyoke.
“But it’s part of living, you know? You don’t win them all, you know, and I think we’ve spoiled our fans where we win the first game all the time,” he said.
“Everybody still has a great attitude about what happened,” he said after the squad’s 2015-16 record was later finalized at 22-4 overall. “They understand that the other team was a little better – the different matchups were there – and they’re happy they got to spend this last day with their basketball family.”
DAY 3: PAONIA 46, AT IGNACIO 41
Unable to generate momentum from an early Manzanares three-pointer, 5-seed IHS trailed the No. 6 Eagles 10-4 after a mistake- and misfire-marred eight minutes and came no closer than 17-15 on a trey by sophomore reserve guard Kruz Pardo late in the second quarter, and 19-17 on senior guard Tucker Ward’s 1-and-1 from the free-throw line with 2:08 left before halftime.
But despite senior catalyst Wyatt Hayes going without a field goal – and more importantly to PHS, without a solitary three – and finishing with a quiet two points, the Cats weren’t going down quietly.
Sophomore reserve guard Johnny Valdez rattled in a vital three-pointer to bring Ignacio back to 42-37 late in the fourth and, not long after, senior reserve guard Chase Sanchez skied to snare a rebound against a taller opponent, took the rock back out to the corner before wheeling around and driving back towards the lane.
His attempted runner went long, but without deflecting off the rim or backboard, went straight into the hands of elevated senior center Nick Herrera for what basically amounted to an alley-oop re-trimming Paonia’s lead down to 46-41 with 0:05 remaining. Unfortunately, PHS (25-2) quickly inbounded the ball and kept it as far away from a white uniform as possible, letting the waning seconds expire without any closer IHS approach.
“I just had to give all that I could for my senior buddies – Nick, Wyatt, Tucker…all the seniors, I just had to give it on the line for them,” Sanchez said. “Give them a good thing to leave on … give all the hustle for them.”
Herrera finished with six points in the fourth quarter, and totaled 11 to match Manzanares for the team high, but counterpart Dagan Rienks – able to regularly slide backdoor or along the baseline during a first half when Herrera and McCaw were each whistled for two infractions, leaving Ward or sophomore reserve Kai Roubideaux to take on the task of defending – led all with his 20, including nine in the second quarter and eight in the third.
Fellow junior Colby Simpson was also effective near the rim and scored ten, while senior guard Taylor Walters managed six points and classmate Francisco Lopez as many via two second-half triples.
“All of our seniors, it’s going to be our last year – except for Wyatt – and just wanted to … try to come out with a win,” Herrera said. “It just wasn’t like the last time we played them. I mean, their posts were good – the big kid [Rienks], he’s only a junior – and going to be tough next year.”
“They have two big men that can play the post really well, and they’re really fast in the guards,” McCaw noted. “We matched up with them pretty good, but they just beat us.”
“Nick played his best games through districts, regionals and State, and that’s the time to play your best ball,” said Valdez. “He held the big guy as best he could down in there, but they were a mismatch problem for us.”
“It wasn’t that they outmatched us – especially in the guards – but the mismatch problem inside hurt,” he continued, alluding to his posts’ foul trouble. “And we couldn’t go to a smaller team because they had two big guys! So that was different about playing this team this year, as opposed to last year.”
Ward finished with four points and Roubideaux one, while Valdez and Pardo were limited to their threes.
“They made some good shots … because we’re both fighting for that trophy!” Manzanares said. “So I give credit to them; they’re a great team.”
“I still can’t believe that this is our last game together, and they’ll never play another game of basketball together,” Sanchez said, referring to the seniors’ last group run. “Honestly, it was breathtaking to me.”
DAY 2: ELLICOTT 55, AT IGNACIO 73
If there was an indicator that Paonia might prevail, it was Walters’ alert disruption of a baseline pass meant for junior reserve guard Joaquin King, waiting in the opposite corner for one purpose – a repeat of the previous afternoon’s energizing three-ball, giving the Bobcats a 41-39 advantage – their first in the consolation-round semifinal – with 3:43 left in the third quarter against 8-seed Ellicott.
“We’ve got to have them. You know they come in, whether just a minute or two minutes, or sometimes they were playing four or five minutes at a time,” Chris Valdez said of his bench players’ importance. “They were valuable to us and did a great job; they took what we told them and they put it on the floor.”
“The kids … we were disappointed yesterday, let’s face it, and we were all down,” he added, again alluding to the Day 1 overtime affair in the double-elimination tourney’s initial ‘Great Eight’ phase.
“I’m happy that they got it going, and when we did get it going late in the second quarter – almost at halftime – we knew we had a shot. We came down, hit several baskets in a row, and were right back in it – when we were nine points down, I knew we could put them on the ropes.”
Having trailed the Thunderhawks 10-4 after one frame, and by as much as 23-10 during the second before closing to 33-24 at intermission after the mutually-exciting stanza, Herrera kept IHS’ rally going with three points starting the third quarter and Ward soon followed with a three-point play after a failed weak-side lob to Herrera.
“They came out with much more energy,” Ward conceded, “and we knew we were going to come out tired and slow. But once … we got a feel for it, we looked each other in the eyes and said we could pull this one out!”
“We sat down at halftime and said ‘Do we want to go out winning one more game, have a chance to win a second one, or do we just want to go out losing?’” recalled McCaw. “We came out and just played hard.”
Able to blank EHS’ first-half star, senior guard Morgan Murray, in the third, Ignacio built up a 48-43 lead heading into a go-for-broke fourth in which the ’Cats showed other teams fans’ exactly what they hoped not to see.
Hayes began with a layup, and would add three FT’s in four tries to finish with a game-high 21 points. Ward did likewise and finished with 20. Including a key breakaway layup with 3:15 left, off-setting an acrobatic scoop shot by Ellicott junior Matthew Davidson at the other end, Manzanares booked six points in the frame to up his total to 16, and McCaw shrugged off his fourth foul to register all his seven before the final buzzer.
“We were able to open up the floor, which makes it real easy for penetration…and late in that quarter we hit Austin for some easy layups,” said Valdez, “and that really put the mustard on the hot dog.”
“It was a great experience for us to go out with a bang like that,” Herrera said, having scored six but somewhat restricted by his own four personals.
Davidson finished with 13 points for the ’Hawks (18-6), as did sophomore guard Chiante Stewart before he fouled out with 1:34 left in the battle. Junior guard Brody Pagan netted six while also one foul short of disqualification, and Murray finished his prep career with an entertaining 17.
“He’s tough, he’s quick … we saw him play Sanford and drop, what, twelve in the first quarter?” said Ward, noting the Black Forest League champs’ early attempt at upsetting the two-time defending State Champions on Day 1, before falling 82-62 in similar fashion. “So we knew he was the guy.”
DAY 1: IGNACIO 60, AT HOLYOKE 61 (OT)
Unable to hold what had been an authoritative 14-2 lead after one quarter, a much-closer 27-21 advantage through two and seemingly-sure 45-32 pad through three, IHS’ hopes at being the ones to deny SHS a third consecutive crown were coldly dashed by the Dragons, after the Championships’ 4-seed rallied to win the fourth, 22-9, and force a fifth frame.
Junior guard Martin Lindstrom’s 16 points led four players on the Championships’ fourth-seeded roster, with senior guard Jesus Loya and junior forward Austin Herman each scoring 12 and junior guard Alex Strauss 11. Manzanares paced Ignacio with 14, Ward registered 13, Hayes ten, Herrera eight and Pardo seven – all from the charity stripe, where the ’Cats went 19-of-27 and Holyoke just 6-11.
“Just went out, gave it our all,” said Manzanares. “Did the best we could … so we’d be proud ourselves.”
HHS went on to finish 22-5 overall and in fourth place after a 53-47 loss on Day 3 to Lower Platte League archrival Julesburg/Ovid Revere co-op Sedgwick County (24-2). Sanford, meanwhile, again escaped Loveland Resurrection Christian, edging the Cougars (25-1) by a 63-58 margin to finish 27-0 and tie mid-1990’s Ridgway – current skipper Steve Hill, the Demons’ head coach back then, was in attendance – with a 73rd consecutive victory.
Rye, the tournament’s other qualifying crew, joined Ellicott as Day 2 casualties and finished 21-5.