After losing to Ignacio High School last month, members of the Mancos High School basketball program indicated they would not look ahead to Tuesday night’s rematch between the San Juan Basin League’s top two teams.
Even so, Bluejays head coach Elijah Knepper and his players probably could not help but circle Feb. 18 on their calendars, and after they defeated Ignacio 69-57, the mood that permeated the Mancos program was a positive one.
“This was a great win,” Knepper said Tuesday. “I’m happy for our guys, and I’m happy for the town of Mancos. We didn’t play well in the first half, and we were able to come in at halftime, recognize that, and play really well in the second half.”
Although balanced scoring was again a highlight for Mancos as five players scored at least six points, it was sophomore Connor Showalter who pushed the Bluejays over the top.
Utilizing his long arms to deflect passes and pick off steals and relying on speed and agility to score in transition, Connor Showalter scored a game-high 25 points, pulled down seven rebounds and registered seven assists. Ignacio had no one to answer his performance.
“Ignacio is always a big game for us, and I feel like it has been a rivalry,” Connor Showalter said. “Tonight, we played in a great environment.”
While Connor Showalter carried much of the load, sophomore Evan Sehnert and senior Hunter Goodwin stretched the floor for the Bluejays and combined to knock down six 3-pointers during a critical second- and third-quarter stretch.
Caden Showalter also played a key role as the senior scored 12 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to register his 54th career double-double, which broke Colorado’s all-time record for double-doubles in a career.
Caden Showalter also played a key role in anchoring his team’s 1-3-1 zone defense, which forced Ignacio turnovers and contested shots.
“Last time we played (Ignacio), we came out in a man-to-man defense,” Knepper said. “This time, we did what we do, the 1-3-1. We communicated well and fed off the energy of a great crowd tonight. We got off to a much better start.”
Although the final score might imply a Bluejays’ domination, the first 16 minutes of the game were hotly contested as Mancos led 19-18 after one quarter and 32-31 after the second.
Key to the Bluejays’ lead was a key second-quarter stretch during which Sehnert drained three 3-pointers, including one that came off an inbounds play that was drawn up after Knepper called a timeout with 4.6 seconds left in the first half.
“My team just has a lot of faith in me to shoot,” Sehnert said. “They realize that over the season, I’ve been putting them up, and they’ve been going in. They just told me to keep shooting, and it worked out.”
As the third quarter got underway, Mancos turned up its defense and built a 49-41 lead, thanks in part to effective outlet passes by Connor Showalter, which led to fast-break buckets by sophomore Edgar Hernandez and senior Anthony Medina, who scored six points and pulled down seven rebounds in the game.
With his team leading by eight points, Knepper then turned to Goodwin, who entered the game and drained a long 3-pointer from the right wing and a long 3-pointer from the left wing to break the game open and put Mancos ahead 57-45 entering the fourth quarter.
“(Ignacio) was playing zone, and I needed somebody that could bust it,” Knepper said. “(Goodwin) came in and hit two 3’s right off the jump. I can’t give him enough credit because he got taken out in football by a dirty play and he has had setback after setback. To come in this late in the season and do what he is doing, he has been a huge lift for us the last few games.”
“It doesn’t matter if you miss, you just gotta keep shooting,” Goodwin said. “I’m really excited, it’s fun to be back at the end of the year when it all matters.”
Although Ignacio did its best to chip away at the Bluejays’ lead and cut that lead to nine points early in the fourth quarter, thanks in large part to 20 second-half points from Bryce Finn, Mancos players took care of the ball down the stretch and maintained their lead.
With its record now at 15-3 overall and 9-1 in the San Juan Basin League, Mancos can finish with the regular season with the league’s best record if it beats Telluride High School on the road on Feb. 21.
The Bluejays will then await their seeding in their Class 2A District Tournament, which begins Feb. 28.
“We’ve got big goals this year, so we need to get past Telluride,” Connor Showalter said. “Then it’s on to districts.”