The Pirate basketball team ended its 2008-09 season last Friday night, eliminated from the preliminary round of the CHSAA State Basketball Tournament after an agonizing six-point loss to Saint Mary’s High School.
Playing at home, to a packed house, the Pirates got off to a shaky start, despite coming off two impressive wins the previous weekend in Monte Vista at the Intermountain League Tournament.
“We didn’t play exceptionally well,” said Coach Jim Shaffer, “and a huge part of that was that we had guys out sick. We had a bad week of practice, Taylor (Shaffer) didn’t practice until Thursday and then he was only about fifty percent on Friday.
“I hate to blame illness on a loss, but I can’t deny that it really hurt us.”
Taylor Shaffer, awarded IML co-player of the year last week (along with Centauri’s Colby Joe Hunt), played well below his performance last weekend, scoring just a single shot (for three points) from the field against Saint Mary’s — his five total points the fourth best for the team.
Although poor ball control hurt both teams in the first period, Saint Mary’s held the edge by preventing Pagosa from taking the ball inside and held the Pirates to just six points from the floor, eight points overall, while scoring all of their 16 points from the field.
In a heavily defensive second quarter, the Pirates kept Saint Mary’s to just nine points but only managed one shot from the field, scoring four of their six points in the period from the free-throw line. Down 14-25 at the end of the half, Pagosa had dug itself into a hole that would prove difficult to emerge from.
Not answering a Saint Mary’s three-point shot and two free-throws early in the third, Pagosa eventually responded with a more physical game, pressing more aggressively down court and driving harder on the inside. Preventing any more points from their opponents, the Pirates managed nine points as they chipped away at the deficit, down 23-30 at the end of the quarter.
The low-scoring third period was as much a reflection of strong defensive play from both teams as it was credit to Saint Mary’s success at chewing up the clock. “We played a lot better in the second half,” said Coach Shaffer, “but you have to give credit to Saint Mary’s — they really shortened the game, took a lot of time off the clock. Them setting the tempo of the game was a big factor in their win.”
After a leadoff bucket from Pirate freshman Tyson Ross (who led the team with 13 points), Pagosa looked poised for a comeback, especially in light of several turnovers by Saint Mary’s. However, unable to capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes, the Pirates ended their season — and championship aspirations — with a 42-48 loss.
Rounding out the Pirate’s top scorers, senior John Jewell got eight points in his farewell appearance with the team, while junior Jordan Caler scored seven points.
Regarding the loss, Coach Shaffer said, “It was disappointing, frustrating, to get that far and then come up short. We took the district championship and it would have been nice to go onto Moby Arena.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t play, we didn’t shoot very well.”
However, looking ahead to next year, Shaffer expressed optimism, saying, “We’ve lost two seniors, we’re a young team. As long as the kids understand that they won’t play better just because they’re a year older, that they have to work hard and play their best, we have a bright future.”
Both Pirate seniors received honors from last weekend’s IML Tournament, with Jewell named all-conference and Sackett Ross taking honorable mention. Coach Shaffer was likewise recognized, named IML Coach of the Year.
Caler also took all-conference and is certain to be one of the leaders for next year’s Pirates, a team that will have four seniors and depth from a field of up-and-coming talent.
“I’m really impressed with our freshman,” Shaffer said, “They’ve really grown up. I thought Tyson (IML all-tournament player) and Curt (Lewis) really came up and showed their stuff this year.”
Judging from the fan’s response to the Pirate’s close loss Friday night, whatever team Shaffer fields next year will have no shortage of love and support.