DOVE CREEK - When the high school boys basketball season began, Dolores had a goal in mind.
A winning season.
A tough home loss to league heavyweight Ignacio in January, the Bears fell to 3-5 overall.
Eleven games later, the Bears have indeed won - all 11 games.
"After that Ignacio game, they walked out of that gym believing they could beat any team they faced," Bears coach Larry Schwartz said. "Every time they step on the floor now, they believe they're going to win a game."
Now 14-5, not only does Dolores have its winning season, it has a league championship.
Ignacio has since lost at Telluride and forfeited at least a league win, due to scheduling too many nonconference games.
A league title already in place, the Bears put an exclamation point on their regular season with a resounding 73-44 win at Dove Creek late Thursday night.
"The boys stepped it up in the second quarter and then they played from there on of how they're capable of playing," Schwartz said. "They did what they had to do, but we'll have to play better than that at districts."
Dolores, with its 7-1 San Juan Basin League record, is the No. 1 seed in next week's 2A SJBL District Tournament at Montezuma-Cortez High School.
The Bears are happy and confident, but definitely hungry for more wins.
"It's been awhile since Dolores has had such a big win streak like this," Bears guard/forward Mikeal Ford said. "We have to keep making sure it's a team thing and not an individual thing. As long as we stay (playing) as a team, I think we can do it (win districts)."
On Senior Night, Dove Creek (4-14, 2-6 1A SJBL) came out inspired in front of its home fans. Unfittingly, this young Bulldogs squad has no seniors. But the pups were taking it to the Bears early behind Jordan Ernst and the enormous Spencer Gatlin, a freshman center.
The rivals battled each other tight, until midway through the second quarter. That's when the Bears clamped down on defense and blew the game open in transition.
With key starters out or limited with injuries and illness, Ford and Austin Blackmer led the charge for Dolores.
The Bears continuously stole from the Bulldogs and converted most of the turnovers into fast-break points. Whether it was Ford going coast-to-coast for 2, or Blackmer hitting a wide open 3, Dolores proudly carried its league title banner to a 36-23 halftime lead.
"They really put it on us toward the end of that second quarter and kind of pulled away," first-year Bulldogs coach Curtis Garver said. "They got to 13 (points ahead) on us pretty quick. We had some turnovers. If we would have taken care of the ball better, it would have worked out nicer for us."
It only got worse for Dove Creek.
A determined Bears squad came out of the locker room ready to put the hammer down. Hayden Plewe and Jakob Rudosky were often on the receiving end of fast breaks in the third quarter. Dolores out-scored the Bulldogs 22-5 in the third to lead 58-28 going into the final frame.
Dove Creek kept pace in the fourth with Beau Hemphill's rainbow 3-pointers and Gatlin pounding away in the paint for points. But it wasn't nearly enough, as the Bears recorded the big win.
"My kids played hard," Garver said. "They came out and answered the challenge in the first half. We just had a couple bad things happen to us to knock a few of my key players out."
Ford scored a game high 19 points, while Blackmer poured in 15.
"We did come out cold. They lit us up for like the first couple quarters," Ford said. "At halftime, we just locked down and we got our game plan straight, and we took it to them."
Gatlin recorded 14 points for the Bulldogs and Hemphill had nine.
Dolores waits to see who it plays at districts next Friday. Opponents and times will be announced Sunday.
Dove Creek played at Telluride on Friday night. Results weren't available at press time. The Bulldogs play De Beque next Wednesday at 7 p.m., in the pigtail round of their district tourney. Dove Creek and De Beque will play at Ridgway High School with the winner advancing to Olathe High.
The Bulldogs swept De Beque in the regular season.