Nobody really needed to tell the Dolores Bears to get fired up for their Tuesday opponent.
“We’ve been looking forward to it for such a long time. It’s definitely been marked on our calendar,” junior Tristen Swagerty said. “But we were overthinking it too much, were overhyped and got caught up in the clouds.”
You really couldn’t blame Dolores, though. Led by Swagerty’s midair acrobatics, Dolores raced out to a 5-0 lead on 2A/1A San Juan Basin League heavyweight Ignacio, and still held an 8-4 advantage midway through the first quarter after a surprise three-pointer by junior post Dakota Smith.
“Swagerty – we always game-plan for him. He’s a great player,” IHS senior guard Johnny Valdez said. “He comes in with a lot of strength, a lot of tenacity to the basket, and we knew we just had to limit him, try to make the rest of the team beat us. And that’s what we were able to do today.”
Able to give a glance back to the Dolores student section after a three-pointer with 2:58 left, Valdez capped a vital 10-0 counterstrike forcing Bears boss Larry Schwartz to call a timeout with his boys suddenly down 14-8. Momentum in the game was about to tip permanently in the Bobcats’ favor.
“They’ve had a couple weeks to prepare for us,” Schwartz said, a what-can-you-do grin on his face. “I knew what was coming, but I was still expecting us to have a better showing than we did.
We were averaging, like, 14 turnovers a game coming in after five games, and Ignacio got us to turn it over way too many times to be competitive.”
Shortly after Schwartz’s pause in play, the visitors began displaying their precision to score points.
Johnny Valdez then capped the quarter with a transition feed to senior Kai Roubideaux, giving the Cats a 22-12 lead after eight minutes. A 5-0 burst, with sophomore Ocean Hunter scoring four of those points, got Ignacio going in the second quarter. Although Dolores went into halftime getting consecutive buckets by sophomore Forrest Pejsa, Ignacio’s 34-22 lead would only grow to a final 69-45 margin.
“They came out in that zone, and we went over every zone offense we had, twice or three times, coach Christ Valdez said. “We wanted to make sure we were crisp at it, and we made several baskets in a row. Johnny, with some good middle screens, hit a couple nice shots and gave us a little edge. (Lawrence) Valdez off a ball screen and skip (pass) for a nice three – I mean, it got us in our rhythm, and they really didn’t have any answer. They had to go to man-to-man.”
The Bears hope to improve before their next meeting with Ignacio.
“We need to improve our defense a hundred and ten percent; there’s only so much offense can get you (against) a team that can’t miss a three,” said Swagerty, who fittingly ended the night’s scoring with a basket giving him a game-high 20 points.
With four of the Bobcats’ eight threes, Lawrence Valdez racked up a team-best 19 points. With two threes and 10 first-quarter points, somewhat offsetting Swagerty’s initial nine, Johnny Valdez finished up with 16 and Hunter 12. Senior Cole McCaw sank his two threes during Ignacio’s 20-9 work in the third quarter and totaled 11 points. Roubideaux booked 10 while regularly clashing with Pejsa (four points) and Smith (ten).
“Some things we weren’t doing, but I think our execution did pretty good and we came out with a ‘W,’” Roubideaux said. “We’ve had almost two whole weeks, you know, to really get in a rhythm, and tonight we executed well.”
“In practice Coach always emphasizes five to six passes before someone can shoot,” he added, “and to make sure you’re always cutting (to the basket), not sticking.”
“We really wanted to make a statement; we know Dolores thinks –and Mancos thinks – that they can compete with us in this league, and we knew we were going to have a tough battle, going to really have to grind, and try to keep a lead,” Johnny Valdez noted. “We were able to do that and it was a great game.”
Up next, Ignacio (2-0, 2-0) will compete at the Dec. 15-16 “Rumble in ‘The Jungle’” hosted by 3A Montezuma-Cortez. About the only aspect of Tuesday’s win the coach stressed needed improving was bench play – which produced just one point in Dolores (whose reserves managed only two).
The Cats will begin the tournament Friday night at 5:30 p.m. versus 3A Moab, Utah, with the Red Devils off to a 4-1 start following Tuesday night’s 54-44 home win over 1A Monticello, Utah.