Playing in its first Class 2A State Tournament in more than a decade, the Mancos High School boys’ basketball team did not show signs of nerves and hung tough with top-ranked Holly High School for two quarters.
The Wildcats’ talent and defense ultimately proved too much for the Bluejays to overcome however, as Mancos fell 57-35, in its opening game of the state tournament at the Budweiser Events Center in Denver on March 7.
The Bluejays trailed 19-16 early in the second quarter and 29-23 at halftime.
Two consecutive 3-pointers by Holly early in the third quarter put Mancos behind 35-23 and forced first-year head coach Elijah Knepper to call a timeout. Although the Bluejays regained their composure over the rest of the quarter, they were unable to cut into their deficit and began the fourth quarter trailing 42-29.
While Mancos players continued to battle hard over the final eight minutes, Holly’s lockdown defense proved difficult to overcome as the Bluejays never pulled closer than 13 points and lost, 57-35.
The No. 1-ranked Tigers have been nearly unstoppable this season while winning all 24 of its games and failing to win by a double-digit point margin just once.
Top players for Holly this season include sophomore Brigden Parker, who has averaged 15.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game this season, and senior Jarrett Rushton, who has averaged 13.0 points.
As unstoppable as the Wildcats have been, the one chink in their armor might be their lack of size: Only one player on their roster, 6-foot-6-inch senior Austin Jensen, stands taller than 6 feet, 3 inches.
Players who looked to exploit Holly’s lack of size included 6-foot-5 junior Caden Showalter, who averaged 15.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Also hoping to make a difference down low for the Bluejays was 6-foot-5 senior Hunter Hoover, who came up big during his team’s undefeated run through its district and regional tournaments.
Mancos also has relied on hot shooting from 6-foot-3 freshman Connor Showalter, who averaged 12.2 points per game this season and knocked down an eye-catching 56 of his 91 3-point field goals.
Due to its opening-round loss, Mancos will now move into the double-elimination tournament’s consolation bracket where they will play the loser of a contest between No. 4 seeded Highland High School and No. 5 seeded Limon High School on March 8. The game was scheduled to begin at 1:15 p.m.