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Pirates clinch IML race with two wins

Certainly underrated in polls (fourth in Colorado Preps, sixth in the Denver Post), the Pirates snagged Intermountain League bragging rights with a hard fought 64-55 win over their 10-6 Alamosa Mean Moose league opponents on Friday night, going 6-0 in the IML and wrapping up their designation as league champions.

On the heels of cinching up top conference honors, the next night the Pirates sank the Salida Spartans 69-29, defeating a team that had held the No. 2-ranked Colorado Springs Christian Lions to a five-point margin Jan. 28 during a 43-38 loss.

The victories improved the Pirates’ record to 16-1.

Coach Randy Sorenson acknowledged that both Alamosa and Salida had come off some good games the past week, carrying that initiative into the Pagosa Springs High School gym. While the Pirates required a little pumping up to deliver their at-home victories.

“Both games, we kind of came out flat,” he said.

That was apparent on Friday night when the Mean Moose provided more than three quarters of stiff competition for the Pirates.

Obviously gunning for a top-ranked team (bringing dozens of students along to cheer their team on in an impressive show of school spirit), the Mean Moose looked to knock the Pirates out of the IML race. However, with only Randall Loch producing for Alamosa (scoring 18 points for the game) in the first half, and the Mean Moose outscored 17-6 in the first quarter and 16-13 in the second, the Pirates held a commanding 33-19 lead going into the half.

As has been the story all season, the Pirates held the advantage on drives and rebounds despite being towered over by bigger kids.

Unfortunately, Pagosa’s advantage was diminished in the second half when Alamosa came out of the half with renewed vigor. Behind some awesome moves by 6’4” senior Randall Lock (who finished the game with 27 points) and 6’5” junior Tyler Martinez (with 15 points), the Mean Moose also excelled on defense, capitalizing on Pagosa turnovers (behind some terrible passing).

Looking as though they caught fire coming into the half, the Mean Moose outscored the Pirates 18-10 in the third, to make it a 43-37 game, edging within four points late in the fourth quarter.

The Pirates saved themselves at the free-throw line, however, going 100 percent in the last two minutes on Alamosa fouls and finishing the quarter with a 19-18 scoring edge, taking the game with the 64-55 win.

Sorenson said, “At the end, we just kind of ran the floor. We really cleaned up at the free-throw line: we went 21 for 23 in the game.”

Kain Lucero led the Pirates in scoring (19 points) as well as a team high four assists; Tyson Ross led with seven rebounds, four steals and was second in scoring with 16 points, while Zerek Jones finished third in scoring with 10 points.

Hosting a team it had beat 54-44 in Salida on Jan. 8, the Pirates had obviously learned a lesson or two from the close call the night before. Although a moribund first quarter found Pagosa up just 13-10, the Pirates shut the Spartans out of the lane in the second, holding them to just a single bucket from outside the perimeter to take an 18-3 scoring advantage, leaving the half with a 31-13 lead.

Working well around Salida’s man-to-man defense, the Pirates continued to drive inside, outscoring the Spartans 15-7 in the third to lead 46-20. With almost five minutes left and a 30-point lead, Sorenson flooded the floor with his JV players. With Pagosa leading by 40 points with over two minutes left, Salida coach Brian Loch let his younger players onto the floor as well, resigned to a game that had ended with Pagosa running 23 points in the fourth (to just nine Salida points), ending with a 69-29 win.

“I was surprised, I really thought it was going to be a tighter game against a team that lost to Manitou Springs by one the night before and held Colorado Springs Christian to five the previous week,” Sorenson said. “But once we got the lead, they kind of just died.”

Ross led scoring with 17 points, followed by Zach Lucero with 12 points (also leading the team with four assists). Daniel Puskas led the team with seven rebounds and tied third in scoring with Jones, both finishing with eight points.

With Pagosa firmly at the top of the IML, Bayfield is a distant second at 3-3 (after a Centauri Falcon 68-63 OT victory over the Wolverines on Saturday). While the Mean Moose prevailed 82-43 in Monte Vista on Saturday night to also go 3-3 in IML challenges, Alamosa’s .588 win/loss percentage brings the team just a tick below Bayfield (with a .667 w-l percentage).

After Tuesday night’s 44-41 win in Monte Vista, the Falcons are also at 3-3, but trail Both Bayfield and Alamosa in percentage. The Falcons would have to beat Pagosa on Saturday and Alamosa next Thursday to take second place in IML standings.

For their part, the Pirates finish up the regular season with two road games against IML opponents. Tomorrow night at 7 p.m., the Pirates take the court in Monte Vista against the 2-15 Pirates (0-6 in the IML). Similar in team name only, Pagosa’s Pirates beat the Monte Vista Pirates 81-35 on Jan. 22 in Pagosa.

“They’re just young and inexperienced,” Sorenson said about Monte. “But never say never.”

The Pirates then travel to face the 7-9 Centauri Falcons in La Jara on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Having lost 54-36 on Jan. 14 in Pagosa Springs, the Falcons are coming off their big 68-63 IML win in Bayfield last weekend and this could be an indication of a late-season rally.

“Centauri’s much improved. They must be,” Sorenson said. “They played Alamosa to within seven two weeks ago and won in Bayfield last Friday. If we want to win, we’d better be prepared to play.”

jim@pagosasun.com