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Pirates win two, head for State

Erasing all doubts, the Pirates proved this past weekend that they are among the best eight teams in the state after defeating the Coal Ridge Titans 57-51 on Friday and the Denver Lutheran Lights 56-52 on Saturday during the first round of the state 3A championships.

As a result of their back-to-back victories over the weekend, the fourth-seeded Pirates will face fifth-seeded Kent Denver (20-4) at 5:30 p.m. tonight in Fort Collins at the CSU Moby Gym.

Coming off a stellar season, the Pirates hosted the 29th-seeded Coal Ridge Titans last Friday night in a tight battle to determine who would move on for title match Saturday. Although the Pirates never lost the edge throughout most of the game, holding the lead throughout most of the contest, the Titans brought a fourth quarter rally that kept Pagosa fans on the edge of their seats.

The Titans were never out of the game and gave enough of a scrap to remind the Pirates that the road to Fort Collins would not be smooth sailing. After taking an early lead and then steaming ahead with 10 straight points, the Pirates met a fierce Coal Ridge defensive resistance that allowed the Titans to momentarily snatch the lead 15-14 in the final minute of the quarter. Responding with their own defensive prowess, the Pirates came back with just seconds left on the clock, as Tyson Ross stole a Titan inbound and set up Austin Jones for the leading basket, putting Pagosa up 16-15 at the buzzer.

It was a defensive battle in the opening minutes of the second quarter as both teams went scoreless. However, Ross kick-started the Pirate offense with a three-pointer (his third for the game) with the team capitalizing on a string of defensive rebounds from Zerek Jones. Ahead by nine late in the second, the Pirates found their lead tightened when the Titan’s Andy Smedra hit a three-pointer just before the buzzer (the Titans hit eight threes to Pagosa’s five) and Pagosa left the half with a 31-25 lead.

“It’s not like we were ever in trouble,” said coach Jim Shaffer, adding, “I thought they were dangerous.”

Starting the second half with another three, the Titans then found it tough to get around the Pirate’s defense. With both teams holding ground, Pagosa kept the edge, outscoring Coal Ridge 9-6 in the quarter, leaving the period with a 40-31 lead.

Despite some poor shooting from the free-throw line (Pagosa went just 55 percent on the night), the Pirates were able to deliver from the floor, keeping enough of an edge to carry the game. Another Smedra three-pointer at the buzzer was just for the books as the Pirates prevailed 57-51 against the Titans.

With all starters stepping up to take on the Titans, it was Ross who stood out with 22 points, 18 rebounds and five steals. Taylor Shaffer finished second with 15 points while Zach Lucero logged 11 points; Jordan Caler led the team with five assists.

The Pirates took to the PSHS gym Saturday to face the formidable 13th-ranked Denver Lutheran Lights, and the game was another tough defensive struggle. The lead went back and forth in the first quarter with the teams tied 7-7 at the midpoint. Pagosa finally pulled ahead but found themselves at risk against a deadly accurate three-point offense. With no score in the last two minutes, the Pirates had a slight edge on offense and led 15-14 at the end of the period.

Despite a slow start in the second quarter, the Pirates were able to gain more of an edge, forcing turnovers from Lights players and capitalizing on those possessions. Still close, the Pirates gained another point to their advantage, leaving the half with a 26-24 lead.

Gaining six straight points in the early part of the third quarter, the Pirates found themselves battling to hold their advantage midway in the period. However, with Pagosa stealing the ball on several Lights possessions, the Pirates were able to widen the lead and outscore Lutheran 17-11 in the quarter, going into the final period with a 43-35 lead.

Hot on several three-pointers, the Lights narrowed the lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, scoring 12 of their 17 points in the period from behind the arc. Bringing the score within three points with less than a minute left, that kind of shooting by Denver Lutheran caused no anxiety on the Pirate bench. Fouling for time, the Lights allowed a single free-throw by Ross to put the score out of three-point reach and, unable to rally, Lutheran fell 56-52 to the Pirates.

“I didn’t think we had it wrapped up until we got a rebound late in the game,” Shaffer said, referring to a Pirate defensive rebound off a Lights three-point attempt that allowed Pagosa to chew up the final seconds on the clock.

Taylor Shaffer led the Pirates with 13 points and eight assists with Austin Jones a close second with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Ross finished third in scoring with 11 points while Jordan Caler led the team with six steals.

At 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, the fourth-seeded Pirate boys meet the fifth-seeded Kent Denver Sun Devils. Should the Pirates win that game, they will face the winner of Thursday’s match between top-seed Faith Christian Eagles (23-1) and the eighth-seeded Eaton Reds. That game takes place at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.

jim@pagosasun.com