IGNACIO – A series of missed layups early and tough defense down the stretch from Ignacio High School frustrated the Mancos Bluejays boys basketball in a massive top-10 2A clash Tuesday night in Ignacio.
Halfway through the second quarter with the seventh-ranked Bobcats leading 27-19, Dylan Labarthe stepped in front of a pass and took it coast-to-coast for a basket and the foul. It was one of many big plays that helped the Bobcats to a 67-61 win.
The Bobcats (8-1, 3-0 2A/1A San Juan Basin League) were led by Bryce Finn with 14 points. Brady McCaw scored 13, as did Bird Red, who came off of the bench as he filled in for Ocean Hunter in the post position. Keegan Schmurman and Labarthe both scored eight for IHS.
Mancos (8-2, 2-1 2A/1A San Juan Basin League), ranked No. 5 in the CHSAA Class 2A poll, was led by Christian Cova, who scored a game-high 21 points, while Connor Showalter scored 16 and his brother, Caden, was held to just four.
“When coach told me to go in, I was prepared to do whatever was necessary,” Labarthe said. “I knew I needed to fill in at that position. When I got that steal and saw I had an open basket, I went as hard as I could and scored. It was a huge basket for us. In the second half, coach said to keep doing me. It was a huge win, and we really needed this.”
Mancos head coach Elijah Knepper thought the early missed layups frustrated his team.
“I felt like, especially early, we missed a lot of layups,” he said. “Credit to the defense; they did a great job of doubling on (the Showalters) to kind of neutralize their size and, obviously, that’s what we hang our hat on. Their best was better than what we like to do.”
Ignacio got out to an early lead in the first half after the Bluejays opened the game with four consecutive missed layups, and IHS capitalized to take a 17-11 lead after the first quarter.
The Bobcats were able to break down Mancos’ stingy 1-3-1 defense that fooled Montezuma-Cortez in an upset win earlier this season.
“I think finding a way to break it down early was big for us as a group,” said IHS head coach Chris Valdez. “We figured out a way to get easy baskets down low, and they almost completely took it away in the second half and went man-to-man, which is something they’re not used to. We got some good give-and-go baskets and hit some nice 3-pointers.”
The second quarter proved how versatile IHS’ offense can be, as the Bobcats had six different scorers. After Labarthe’s steal-and-score, Ignacio would make two more 3-pointers, and McCaw converted a traditional three-point play at the foul line to help IHS take a 40-28 lead into halftime.
After the Bobcats were up by as many as 18 after a made basket from Finn with 4:38 to go in the third, the Bluejays clawed back through free-throw shooting and crisp cross-court passing in which they were able to find the open man. Mancos ended the quarter on a 6-0 run with baskets from the Showalter brothers and Anthony Medina to make it 55-44 heading into the fourth.
Mancos climbed back into the game with timely baskets from Evan Sehnert and Connor Showalter, who scored seven points in the third quarter. Knepper was impressed with how his team fought back.
“I knew coming in that Ignacio could shoot the hell out of the ball,” Knepper said. “They were really good, as anticipated. I thought we battled really hard in the second half, particularly for the last 12 minutes; the first four weren’t great. I’m not gonna get too high or too low in January, and there are lessons to take into Ridgway on Saturday.”
Finn opened the fourth quarter with a clutch 3-pointer, and Red scored another layup down low after a feed from McCaw to extend the lead back to double digits. Late in the fourth, Mancos would get as close as five at 66-61, but Finn found a wide-open Labarthe, who finished another transition layup to keep the game going in Ignacio’s favor.
The Bluejays would have opportunity to get back into the game at the free-throw line with Ignacio in foul trouble, but Ignacio continued to play confident defense.
“Coach just told us to keep our hands up and stay out of foul trouble,” McCaw said. “For me, I was guarding Caden Showalter, who is one of the best big men in the league, and I trusted the other guys to stick to their guy. We looked good the whole time until it became a free-throw game, which slowed our momentum down. From there, I knew that they were going to go inside, so I was really happy that I kept Caden to only four points. It’s such a fun matchup, and I am looking forward to it again.”
The Bluejays had two possessions to cut the deficit down to three points but had back-to-back 3-point attempts that came up short, and IHS held on.
“It’s not often that you get to play a top-10 team in your league twice,” Finn said. “For us, we have to keep taking it one game at a time, but this was a massive win for us, and hopefully, we can keep it going.”
The same two teams will meet again Feb. 18 in Mancos. For Ignacio, Tuesday’s win was big after the two teams split last year’s series and never got a chance to meet in the district championship game after IHS was upset by Dolores in overtime of the semifinals.
Ignacio will host Ridgway (5-5, 2-1 SJBL) at 7 p.m. Friday. Ridgway will then visit Mancos at 3 p.m. Saturday.