The summit of the 2A San Juan Basin League had been an elusive goal for Montezuma County’s two 2A District 3 representatives.
On Saturday, a strong semifinal victory over Telluride propelled regular season co-champions and tournament top seed Mancos into Sunday’s title game. Then, a couple hours later, Dolores captured a heart-stopping overtime victory over perennial league power Ignacio, ensuring the trophy would find new owners at the end of a weather-delayed San Juan Basin League Tournament.
When the dust cleared, Mancos (15-6) topped rival Dolores (11-10) for the third time this season, posting a 47-36 victory to win the 2A San Juan Basin League tournament.
The Bluejays had controlled the majority of their two regular season meetings, staving off a Dolores comeback in their first meeting before dominating the Bears in a 27-point win in early February.
It didn’t take long for the Bluejays to find their rhythm against the Bears, running out to a 9-3 lead on the strength of six early points from junior Caden Showalter.
Dolores stayed in the game early on the back of their 3-point shooting, accounting for all nine of their first quarter points, but still trailed 16-9 after eight minutes.
The Showalter display continued into the second quarter, with younger brother Connor burying a jumper to give Mancos their largest lead of the game, 20-9.
Dolores, who had already assured themselves a place in the 2A Regional tournament courtesy of their semifinal victory, tried to battle back midway through the second stanza. Bears sophomore Hayden Tallmadge scored a pair of layups to close the gap to 22-16.
Mancos briefly restored its double-digit lead on a Caden Showalter bucket, while Dolores turned to the free throw line to stay in contact. The Bluejays settled for a 29-20 lead heading into the intermission.
Out of the halftime break, Dolores seniors Dakota Smith and Neil Farias dropped in 3-pointers to begin the third quarter, and the Bears were the closest they had been since the opening minutes, down 31-26. However, much like they have all season, the Mancos Bluejays calmly responded with a spurt of their own, with senior Hunter Hoover’s layup putting the top seed back up by nine.
Meanwhile, with the game slowing down and scoring at a premium, the Bluejays turned to their defense to dim any hope of a Bear comeback. Dolores was limited to five second-half field goals, two from senior Tristen Swagerty. Mancos sophomore Christian Cova helped to settle matters with late free throws.
For Mancos head coach Elijah Knepper, claiming the district title was testament to his team’s cohesion this season. “This is a special group,” said Knepper. “I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
The Bears struggled to find an answer for Caden Showalter, who led all scorers with 26 points. Connor Showalter added 10, and Cova posted eight points in the winning effort.
“We knew it was going to be tough to slow Swagerty down,” said Knepper. “We just tried to make him work for everything that he earned.”
Tristen Swagerty paced the Bears with 11 points, while William Swagerty scored six points.
With the district title in hand, Mancos prepares to host a regional site in the 2A tournament. Dolores, along with third-place finisher Telluride, also will fill in the field of 32, with sites and game times to be determined when the state bracket is released early this week.
“There’s been a buzz around the community about this team all year,” said Knepper. “And we’re blessed to have their support going into the regional tournament.”