With a narrow 35-28 win in La Jara last Friday night against a 10-7 Falcons team, the Pirates were declared 2009-2010 conference regular season champs, going unbeaten so far in the IML. With Centauri and Bayfield a distant second in the IML (both 2-3 with just a week to go in the regular season), the Pirates (at 5-0) are clear conference champs.
However, the Pirates fell again to the 4A Cortez Panthers (their second loss to Cortez this season) by a single bucket in the final seconds on Tuesday night, losing 50-48.
Conference dominance was hard-fought against Centauri. A tough defensive battle, the teams were evenly matched in the first quarter, each scoring just 10 points while the Pirates held off the Falcons in the second quarter, a mere total eight points, with Pagosa having a 5-2 edge, leaving the half with a 15-12 lead.
Offense was unspectacular on both sides (with the exception of Pagosa’s Mary Brinton who scored two-thirds of the team’s total points) as the Pirates slogged through their lowest scoring game of the season. Outscoring the Falcons 10-6 in the third, the Pirates managed to hold off a rally in the final period, matching Centauri 10-10 and allowing the second and third quarter edge to carry them to a 35-28 victory.
Brinton led the team with 23 points, followed by Victoria Espinosa with four points, while Sienna Stretton finished with three points and led the team with four assists. While the Pirates struggled from the floor, they shot an impressive 71 percent from the free-throw line.
Unfortunately, the Pirates struggled once again against an athletic, aggressive and quick Cortez team. With his team having given up five turnovers in the first minute and 15 seconds into the quarter, and down 8-0 with 4:35 left, coach Wes Lewis called a time-out to rally his troops. Whatever Lewis said must have taken because the Pirates returned to score six straight points and, with two free-throws by Brinton, tied the game with 2:24 left in the quarter. Nonetheless, rattled by a harassing press and a formidable zone defense, the Pirates allowed the Panthers to take the quarter 16-10.
Playing catch-up throughout the second quarter, the Pirates tied the score three times in the period. With the hands of Cortez players everywhere in the Pirate’s offense, stealing balls, blocking passes and preventing execution, the Pirates were unable to get the edge. Although outscoring the Panthers 13-9 in the second quarter, the Pirates left the half down 25-23.
Coming out strong in the third quarter, the Pirates were finally able to gain an edge. A quick bucket by Megan Bryant and two consecutive layups by Brinton, put Pagosa up 29-27. Eventually, getting out ahead by five points late in the third, the Pirates looked to turn their fortunes around. Outscoring Cortez 15-10 in the period, the Pirates went into the fourth with a 38-35 lead.
It was the final quarter that mattered, and unfortunately for the Pirates, the edge went to Cortez. Chipping away at the Pirate lead throughout the quarter, the back and forth between both teams kept the Panthers between one and three points behind Pagosa. However, with just over a minute left, Cortez tied the game 48-48 on a free throw and then, capitalizing on a rebound from a missed Pagosa shot, regained the lead with just three seconds left, handing the Pirates a 50-48 defeat.
Brinton again led the team, scoring 31 points — 65 percent of the team’s total — adding 10 rebounds and five blocks, and going 11 for 13 at the free-throw line. Breezy Bryant finished with nine points, while Victoria Espinosa finished with four points and led with three assists.
Having lost twice to Cortez, the Pirates go into their final two season games with a 15-2 record and a reminder that four points stand between that record and an unbeaten season.
The Pirates finish their regular season with two road games over the weekend. Playing tomorrow night in Bayfield against their perennial Wolverine rivals, the Pirates should not assume an easy win. Indeed, although the Pirates beat the 10-8 Wolverines 49-42 on Jan. 29 in Pagosa, it was a close game, at home, that could have gone either way until the very end. In the Wolverine’s den, the Pirates will need to batten down the hatches and go full sail.
Travelling onto Farmington on Saturday for their final game of the scheduled season, the Pirates again meet a team that refused to bow down to the standard. Having lost 50-41 on Feb. 4 in Pagosa, the 2-17 4A Scorpions have struggled, losing their last four games and 14 of their last 16. However, bringing the Pirates into their house, the Scorpions could be poised to sting, with a vengeance.
Once the Pirates navigate the final two games of their season, they host the IML tournament, on Friday, Feb. 26, at 7:30 p.m. If they win that game, the Pirates will play at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27 against the winners of Friday’s 6 p.m. game for bragging rights as IML tournament champs and the right to move on in Colorado 3A post-season play.