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Pirate boys poised for run to post-season play

Speed and teamwork have been the key to the Pirates’ success this basketball season and, if the Pagosa boys can maintain the level of intensity they have exhibited so far this year, a post-season appearance is all but assured.

“We keep getting better with every practice and every game,” said Coach Jim Shaffer about his team’s cohesiveness and level of intensity. “If we can keep getting better, we’re going to win some games.”

The Pirates return from Christmas break with a road game in Salida for a second and final match against the Spartans. Having defeated the Spartans in their final game before the break (a 55-43 win in Pagosa on Dec. 19), the Pirates have an opportunity to repeat their dominance — and prove their claim to a playoff placement. A win in Salida would be a good indication of the Pirates’ playoff aspirations.

The Pirates return to the road Jan. 12 for a match against the Bobcats in Ignacio. A perennial 2A powerhouse, the Bobcats have not shown their usual dominance so far this season. Although holding a respectable 4-2 record, they fell to the Farmington, N.M. Scorpions 41-44 on Dec. 12 — a team they were favored to beat. And while Ignacio trounced the Dolores Bears 73-44 on Dec. 15, Pagosa embarrassed the Bears 102-26 on Dec. 12 during the Wolf Creek Classic.

Shaffer said he felt the two upcoming road games could be tough for the team. “Both teams are really good and we’re on the road.”

The Pirates finish their road trip Jan. 16 in Monte Vista for Pagosa’s first conference match of the season. Hapless so far this season with a 0-8 record, and a 31-58 loss to the Alamosa Mean Moose on Dec. 19 (Pagosa beat Alamosa 61-45 Dec. 5), Monte Vista does not look to be much of a challenge.

The Pirates return home Jan. 19 to host the 0-7 Montezuma-Cortez Panthers for a game that should be an easy win for the Pirates. After the Pirates beat Dolores by 76 points in the first round of the Wolf Creek Classic, the Panthers lost 56-50 to the Bears the following day.

Hosting the 3-5 Centauri Falcons Jan. 23 for a second conference game, the Pirates will probably make some adjustments to answer the Falcons’ unique offense. However, the Falcons appear to be struggling this season, having lost their last three games, and it will be interesting to see how they fare against Alamosa during their Jan. 9 match against the Mean Moose. The Pirates will have another shot at the Falcons Feb. 12 in La Jara.

On Jan. 29, the Pirates will play host to their league rivals, the Bayfield Wolverines. Another struggling team, the 4-4 Wolverines have lost to Alamosa and Dolores, both teams that Pirates have easily defeated. The Pirates will be in Bayfield Feb. 19 for a rematch.

The Farmington, N.M. Scorpions are an unknown quantity, but their Jan. 5 match against the Cortez Panthers could be an interesting preview. While the Scorpions are 2-7, they have lost to some tough New Mexico teams. However, other losses have come at the hands of tepid Colorado and Utah teams and the team appears inconsistent, at best. A big 4A team, the Scorpions could give the Pirates their toughest challenge this season; nonetheless, Pagosa looks strong against a Farmington team that has not distinguished itself this season. The Pirates will finish the regular season Feb. 20 in Farmington.

A Feb. 9 match in Mancos against the 2A Bluejays should not give the Pirates any reason for concern. With Mancos down two key players due to injuries, the team has had little experience with division varsity teams and has lost both its league matches. Furthermore, a Jan. 30 road game in Alamosa should allow the Pirates to pad their record and claim dominance in southwest Colorado 3A basketball.

With the exception of a close 51-47 season-opener loss in Buena Vista on Dec. 4 (the Pirates reconciled that with a 54-45 win over the Demons Dec. 12 to win the Wolf Creek Classic), the Pirates have exhibited the kind of speed and teamwork that should outclass their opponents going into the final two-thirds of the season. More than that, the team has a depth on the bench that would be the envy of many teams throughout the state.

Not endowed with much height (at 6-4, Austin Jones is the Pirates’ tallest player), the Pirates more than make up for a lack of stature with speed, agility and intelligence that has, at times, flustered and worn down opponents.

That speed has not only served the Pirates’ offense — the defense has intimidated opponents all season, not just with their ability to be everywhere they need to be, but also by putting a stop to an opponent’s second chances, either making the rebound or stealing the ball.

However, it is on offense where the Pirates’ speed and teamwork is most prominent. Many times, before an opposing team has time to set itself up, a Pirate has broken away to either take the shot or pass to a teammate who has the best look at the basket.

Core starters Tyson Ross, Zach Lucero, Taylor Shaffer, Jordan Caler and Austin Jones bring a level of play and teamwork that has shut down opponents from the tipoff (the Pirates have led the first quarter in every game this season and have outscored opponents three out of four quarters). Backing up the starters, Daniel Puskas, Kain Lucero, Zerek Jones and Andrew Rice provide ample coverage for any gaps left in the absence of the starters.

The Pirates’ advantages are numerous: a speed of play that would be the envy of a lot of college teams, intelligent and incisive teamwork, depth on the bench and a tremendous athleticism shared by all members of the team.

If the team has any weakness it is at the free-throw line: the team is only shooting 63 percent. Another (albeit, minor) shortcoming is the team’s tendency to let their defensive guard down in later quarters of the game, allowing their opponents to score more than 15 points in those quarters (as has happened in five quarters this season).

However, all things considered, Pagosa looks much stronger than any IML team and as strong as any 3A team in Colorado. Furthermore, the few weaknesses exhibited by the team are not insurmountable and not the kinds of things that would substantially hurt post-season chances. Finally, it is the team’s speed, agility, intensity and teamwork that more than compensates for any minor drawbacks.

Shaffer agrees that his team’s speed and intensity — and especially their level of teamwork — will make the difference in the last two-thirds of the season.

“It’s been a true team, not a couple of kids who do all the scoring. Sure, you’re going to have some guys who score more than other, but these guys really like each other and it shows,” he said.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Shaffer said.

jim@pagosasun.com