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Pirates considerably improve post-season prospects

For yet another week the Pirates proved that they can overcome a definite height disadvantage, out-playing bigger teams in the paint and under the boards. Considerably improving their post-season prospects, the Pirates took their last two home games to the bank, proving that speed, stealth and precision work well against size and brawn. After a 60-56 victory over the Farmington, N.M. Scorpions on Thursday night, the Pirates returned home on Saturday to tame their Intermountain League rivals the Bayfield Wolverines with a decisive 50-36 win.

Saturday’s win over Bayfield moved the Pirates up one spot in the Colorado Preps polls to number four in state 3A rankings.

Once again, facing a bigger 4A team, the Pirates proved that finesse and teamwork would win the day.

The Scorpions were unable to creep into the paint as the Pirates held a tough and almost impenetrable zone. With the wind at their backs, it looked as though Pagosa would dominate with 11 unanswered points early in the first. However, the Scorpions crawled back in the last two minutes, taking advantage of Pirate mistakes and capitalizing on a few Pagosa fouls, closing the gap and going into the second down 13-10. Capitalizing on sloppy mistakes by the Pirates — turnovers and fouls — the Scorpions came within one point of grabbing the lead in the second. However, overwhelmed by a quicker defense and offense, Farmington left the half down 28-21 as Pagosa rallied towards the end of the half and stomped hard on any Scorpion attempts to sting.

“Defensively we didn’t play as well as I’d hoped we would,” said coach Randy Sorenson.

The Scorpions strategy was much like Pagosa’s — fast near the lines down court, faster on the inside during the drive. Yet despite plenty of second looks beneath the basket, the Scorpions were unable to produce, giving the Pirates a 15-10 scoring edge in the third that Farmington couldn’t overcome. While outscoring Pagosa 25-17 in the final quarter, the Scorpions never got ahead and ended up falling 60-56 in a game Sorenson hoped would not be so close.

Tyson Ross led the team with 18 points scored, eight rebounds and three assists; he was followed by Zerek Jones with 16 points and Kain Lucero with 10. Zach Lucero had four steals.

On Saturday, the Pirates had their work cut out for them, as the Wolverines kept the game within 6-7 points for three quarters. However, holding Bayfield’s bigs (6-5 Seth Posey and 6-9 Derek Hillyer) to just eight points each, the Pirates ran the table in the fourth, getting ahead by 16 points with less than two minutes to go and finishing with a “big” 50-36 win.

With a three-pointer by Kain Lucero at the buzzer on the heels of five straight points by Jones in the final minute, the Pirates got out to a 15-6 lead in the first. Bayfield responded in the second, however, picking Pirate pockets and driving hard on the inside, closing the gap by outscoring Pagosa 11-8 and leaving the half down just 23-17.

In a rough-and-tumble second half that perfectly displayed that there’s no love lost between the two teams, Pagosa managed to gain a slight 10-7 in the third, despite problems with turnovers and some astonishingly bad passes. Going into the fourth up 33-24 and manhandled by Bayfield’s press, it looked as though the game could go either way.

With tensions tight on both sides, the Pirates were able to capitalize on a defense that shut the Wolverines out of the lane (despite Posey’s dominance on the defensive rebound), holding Bayfield scoreless for almost five minutes while grabbing a 16-point lead with less than two minutes left. In the end, with the Wolverines unable to produce from the foul line, the Pirates finished with a 50-36 victory, finishing the week at 14-1 and 5-0 to lead the IML (with Bayfield’s 3-2 a distant second in the league).

Ross again led in scoring with 18 points, while also leading with six rebounds and three steals. Kain Lucero had 12 points and led with four assists, while Jones finished third in scoring with 10 points.

“We played well against an excellent team,” Sorenson said. “The boys executed the defense we’d planned for and we played well as a team. Different kids stepped up at different times to give us a win.”

Saturday’s win moved the Pirates up to fifth place in Monday’s Colorado Preps rankings and will most likely show a rise in the Denver Post polls after the rebels took another loss against Eaton on Feb. 1 ­— the ranking had always been somewhat puzzling after the Keenesburg, Colo. team had taken a Jan. 25 49-46 loss against their Highland Huskies rivals from the 3A Patriot league.

Other than that, neither poll should show any movement, with the top four firmly entrenched after holding steady to winning ways over the past week. Arvada’s Faith Christian Eagles remain locked at first in both polls having dropped only one game all season to the 5A Fossil Ridge Sabercats, themselves ranked number three in both 5A polls and 15-0 for the season.

At number two in both polls, the Colorado Springs Christian Lions retain a 15-0 record for the season, while the third ranked Kent Denver Sun Devils hang in despite losing 54-48 to 2A Denver Christian Crusaders Jan. 6 (ranked fourth) and 64-61 to 2A Denver Lutheran Lights (ranked third) Jan. 20. The Valley (Gilcrest, Colo.) Vikings edge out the Pirates at fourth despite a Jan. 8 54-52 loss to Sun Devils and a Jan. 4 59-56 loss to Northridge Grizzlies; the ranking is a little puzzling.

Tomorrow night, the Pirates bring the 9-6 Mean Moose to Pagosa to give Alamosa a chance to reconcile their 59-53 loss two weeks ago on their home court. A former 4A team and holding a definite height advantage over the Pirates, the Maroons nonetheless learned that size doesn’t matter.

The next night, Pirates fans are treated to an unscheduled home game, a makeup for a December game against the Salida Spartans that was cancelled due to snow. Although the Pirates defeated the Spartans 54-44 Jan. 8 in Salida, the Spartans have played a tough roster and could bring a mean game to Pagosa on Saturday night. Holding third-ranked Colorado Springs Christian to a four-point game last Friday (losing 42-38 at home), the Spartans are showing tremendous improvement as the season winds down.

Both games begin at 7 p.m.

jim@pagosasun.com