Attempting to put into words what he had just witnessed, the longtime head coach began by praising his Mancos opponents, who had gone toe-to-toe with Dolores for four quarters and an overtime period.
Schwartz then took a deep breath, and praised his own players, who, after trailing by 10 points with 4:48 left in the fourth quarter, had staged one of the most impressive comebacks in San Juan Basin League memory.
“That was a heck of a game by Mancos,” Schwartz said. “They were ready. They’ve come a long ways since last year, and their coach has got them playing well. I don’t know what to say about my guys, but they’ve got guts, and they didn’t give up.”
While several factors contributed to the Bears’ comeback win, no single factor was as important as clutch fourth-quarter three-pointers by Justin Purkat and Dakota Smith, who shot the ball as if they had ice water in their veins.
The first of the long bombs came with 4:35 to go when Purkat received a pass in the right corner and calmly drained a triple to put cut his team’s deficit to 56-49. A three-pointer from the left wing by Smith later in the quarter reduced Mancos’ lead to 61-60 with 1:26 left, and a second right-corner three by Purkat put Dolores up 63-62 with 25 second to go.
With fans on both sides of the court roaring and the game hanging in the balance, Mancos sophomore Caden Showalter rebounded teammate Caleb Yoder’s miss and passed to junior Hunter Hoover, who narrowly missed a layup, but was fouled and knocked down one of two free throws with 16 seconds left to tie the game, 63-63.
After a frantic scramble for the ball on the Bears’ subsequent offensive possession, Smith nearly scored the game winner on a jumper from six feet out, which hung on the rim for a full two seconds before sliding to the floor.
The late comeback injected Dolores players with confidence however, and after a layup by Smith, a fast-break layup by Purkat, a layup by Smith, and a fast-break layup by Tristen Swagerty, Dolores found itself ahead 71-66 in the overtime period and in complete control.
“I think the steals and (the fast-break points) in overtime were very important,” Purkat said. “They just kind of gave us our momentum back. We lost it somewhere in the third quarter.”
Although the Bears’ late-game heroics provided the overarching storyline for the contest, the play of Mancos senior Caleb Yoder and Mancos sophomore Caden Showalter stood out as the two scored 26 points and 17 points respectively.
The two stars were especially impressive during the second quarter, which began with an elbow jump shot by Showalter to cut Dolores’ lead to 17-16, and included an array of runners and three pointers by Yoder, who scored seven points in the quarter and assisted on several other buckets.
“(My success) is all a product of the offseason,” Yoder explained. “It’s the result of going to the park by myself and putting up shots. I look at youtube videos of footwork and form and I practice those things.”
Asked about his team’s performance, Mancos head coach James Lewis complimented his players’ effort before citing his team’s inability to deal with Dolores’ full-court pressure and his team’s missed free throws as reasons for the loss.
“We need to be able to handle the pressure and make free throws,” Lewis explained. “There were a couple of fouls and we got some guys on the free throw line and missed those shots. If we would have made those shots, the game would have been over.”
High scorers for Dolores included Smith, who netted 25 points, and Swaggerty, who scored 18 points. Purkat scored 12 points for the Bears, while freshman Christian Cova chipped in eight for the Bluejays.
Dolores led 17-14 after the first quarter, the game was tied at halftime, Mancos led 45-43 at the end of the third quarter, and Dolores outscored Mancos in the overtime period, 10-3. Smith beat the halftime buzzer with a long three to tie the game, 30-30, and Swagerty beat the third-quarter buzzer with a three-pointer to cut into the Bluejays lead.
“We just have that bond that no one can break,” said Smith, when asked how his team secured its victory. “We always hang out at school and we help each other with homework on the weekends. We’re always together and I think that helps a lot.”
Now 4-4 on the season, Dolores will play its next game at home against Telluride on Jan. 11. Mancos, which is currently 6-3 on the season, will next travel to face Ridgway on Jan. 19.