Shortly after his team defeated Dolores High School on Jan. 22, Mancos High School boys basketball coach Elijah Knepper stood near his team’s bench and breathed what was likely a sign of relief.
Knepper’s Bluejays had just come away with a 60-53 victory in a game that began with Mancos building a 17-point first-half lead and ended with Dolores narrowing the gap to two points and nearly scoring an upset.
“Good teams win these games, and if you want to achieve your goals, sometimes you have to win ugly,” Knepper said. “I thought we won ugly tonight, and I thought we were very fortunate to win the game. We’ll take any win that we can get.”
Among the standout players in Mancos’ victory was junior Caden Showalter, who scored a season-high 27 points and pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds in a manner that reminded fans that he is among the best players in the San Juan Basin League.
Time and time again, Caden Showalter caught the ball in the paint, and time and time again, the athletic big man overpowered smaller defenders. Senior Vassar Stephens also enjoyed an outstanding first half as the Bluejays’ high flyer threw down three dunks, including an alley-oop and a pretty reverse slam in transition.
Even as Mancos put on an offensive clinic, Dolores stayed within striking distance, thanks to three three-point field goals by freshman William Swagerty during the first half, including a long bomb from the right wing as the first half expired to cut the Bluejays’ lead to 33-24.
More three-point shooting from William Swagerty and senior Dakota Smith allowed Dolores to further its deficit during a third quarter that ended with Smith drilling a long three-pointer from the right wing to make the score 44-39 in favor of the Bluejays.
As time ticked away in the fourth quarter, the score continued to tighten, and after a three-pointer by William Swagerty from the right wing, Mancos found itself leading 48-44 and Knepper called a timeout.
“I told them in the timeout, this is gut-check time right here,” Knepper said. “For the first 10 minutes, we executed (our keys to victory) and for the last 22 minutes, we did not. There are a lot of things that we need to clean up and work on.”
Over the final four minutes of the contest, Dolores drew even closer as a 3-pointer by Smith cut Mancos’ lead to 52-49 with less than three minutes left.
A key layup by Mancos senior Hunter Hoover and six late points from Caden Showalter eventually put the game away, however, and after the contest, William Swagerty lamented his team’s slow start.
“We’ve got to start off strong,” William Swagerty said. “If we want to win our games, we have to come out hot.”
In addition to Caden Showalter’s 27 points, Mancos received a solid scoring performance from Stephens who scored 17. Hoover and freshman Connor Showalter each scored seven points for the Bluejays.
Dolores was led in scoring by Smith, who had 19 points, and William Swagerty, who scored 14 points. Tristan Swagerty added nine points for the Bears.
Now 8-4 overall and 5-0 in the SJBL, Mancos will prepare for a road matchup against Dolores on Jan. 26. Dolores, which is 4-7 overall and 2-4 in the SJBL, will visit Nucla on Jan. 25.