Call them “The Heart Attack Kids.”
With two games needed to carry the Pirates into tonight’s Great Eight state championship series, both games were as close — and heart-stopping — as almost any game the team has played this season.
With both opponents far bigger than the Pagosa boys, the Pirates proved for the umpteenth time this season that speed and teamwork matter more than height, defeating their namesakes from Olathe 44-37 during Friday night’s first round, then returning Saturday night to beat the 13-10 Buena Vista Demons 34-31 in the final seconds of the game.
The 28th-ranked, 9-12 Olathe Pirates hit the Pagosa Springs High School gym floor loaded for bear and looking like they could possibly put an end to Pagosa’s season. With most of the Olathe squad at six-foot or over (two players at 6-4 and one 6-5) and mounting an effective zone defense, Pagosa found itself down 16-13 at the end of the first quarter.
“They won the state championship the last couple of years so we knew they would compete and wouldn’t give up,” said Pagosa coach Randy Sorenson.
Although Pagosa found no love shooting outside the perimeter in the second quarter, the Pirates did manage to penetrate Olathe’s zone early in the second to reach a tie. With both teams scoreless for over four minutes of play in the period, it was Pagosa that took the edge, outscoring Olathe 10-7 to leave the half on a 23-23 tie.
Pagosa got some help on offensive rebounds in the third (despite Olathe’s height clear advantage), a badly needed band-aid considering first looks flopped with almost confounding consistency. Still, Pagosa held on defense well enough to move ahead by two at the end of the third, outscoring Olathe 9-7 and going into the fourth with a 32-30 lead.
Undaunted, Olathe came back early in the fourth to reclaim the lead behind five straight points by Olathe’s 6-4 center Carston Byers. Unwilling to let their game slip away, Pagosa came back with four points by Tyson Ross (from the floor and the line) and another bucket off an offensive rebound by Zerek Jones, reclaiming a slight lead with just minutes left in the game.
Fouls and turnovers proved to be Olathe’s undoing late in the fourth. Scoring just one more bucket in the final minute-plus, Olathe sent Pagosa’s Kain Lucero to the line three times, allowing him to go six-for-six and letting Pagosa walk with a 44-37 victory.
Ross led Pagosa scoring with 17 points followed by Jones with 12 points (also leading the team with seven rebounds, Lucero finished third in scoring with 11 points.
In a largely defensive showdown, Sorenson said he felt the team could have gotten off to a better start.
“We gave up 16 points in the first quarter. We just didn’t play very good defense,” Sorenson said.
Earlier on Friday, the 21st-ranked Demons defeated the 12th-ranked, 18-4 Sheridan Rams 60-57 after two overtime periods.
If Friday’s game saw some white knuckles among Pirate fans, Saturday afternoon’s Sweet 16 showdown against the 13-10 Demons must have had the defibrillator paddles at ready.
Again, facing a much bigger team (all but two players on the squad six-foot or over, two key starters at 6-4 and another at 6-5), the Pirates hosted a team they’d beaten 62-54 Dec. 4 in Buena Vista. And although the Demons’ Friday night victory over Sheridan had looked somewhat sloppy (defense and shooting on both sides leaving a lot to be desired), the team that took the court on Saturday had apparently spent Friday night reflecting on how they could win on Saturday.
In a defensive battle in the first quarter, the Pirates held a narrow 7-6 lead going into the second. With turnovers hurting the Demons and with the Pirates capitalizing on those mistakes — as well as a pair of three-pointers by Kain Lucero and another one by his brother, Zach, Pagosa finished with a 14-5 scoring advantage in the period, leaving the half with a 21-11 lead.
“Our defense was really outstanding,” Sorenson said regarding the first half.
That changed during the first few minutes of the third, however, with the Demons grabbing the initiative. Although Pagosa managed to adjust after the Demons scored a quick 10 points (no team scored in the last five-plus minutes of the period), the Pirates allowed Buena Vista to clip some points off the Pagosa lead. Outscored 10-2 in the third, Pagosa found itself heading into the final period with a narrow 23-21 advantage.
“Unfortunately, we struggled on scoring in the third quarter and allowed them to come back,” Sorenson said.
With a three-pointer by Buena Vista’s Jon Allen in the opening seconds of the fourth, the Demons found themselves in the lead for the first time in the game. Another Demon bucket put Pagosa back by three points early in the fourth. However, that lead fell after Zach Lucero scored a point from the free-throw line while Jones scored another two from the floor.
From there, both teams traded buckets — and the lead — going into the final seconds of the game. With Zach Lucero stealing a Demon ball and scoring on the breakaway layup, the Pirates found themselves up by one, with that lead widened when Ross went two-for-two from the line. The Demons shaved that lead down to one on a bucket by Ben McElravy. However, with Kain Lucero going two-for-two from the line, the Pirates held a slim three-point lead.
Nonetheless, with 30 seconds left and in possession of the ball, Buena Vista looked poised to send the game into overtime. It was in that final half minute when the Pirate defense stepped up for the most important seconds of the season, holding the Demons well outside the perimeter.
With just over 10 seconds left, Demon coach Scott Crites call a timeout, no doubt to tell his boys it was do or die.
And die they did. An attempted three-pointer bounced high off the rim and, denying the shot a second chance for the net, Jones grabbed the rebound, passing it off to Kain Lucero who dribbled out the last two ticks of the clock. In a heart-stopping finish, the Pirates clinched their spot in Fort Collins with a 34-31 victory.
Crites must have regretted his team’s aggressive defense at the end: seven of Pagosa’s 11 points in the fourth were scored from the line while Buena Vista had only a single free-throw point that quarter.
Ross led the Pirates with 17 points with Kain Lucero second in scoring with six points. Jones finished with five points and held a team high six rebounds.
Sorenson said that his team was well-matched and stressed his respect for both squads and their coaches.
“They’re really gutsy teams,” he said, “well-coached. They’re really classy teams.”
The Pirates face off against the fourth-ranked 19-5 Machebeuf Buffaloes at 4 p.m. tonight, meeting a team that plays the majority of its season in the intimidating Metro league (which includes other Great Eight participants the ninth-ranked 20-4 Kent Denver Sun Devils and the top-ranked 22-1 Faith Christian Eagles — state 3A champions for the last three years).
If the Pirates win tonight, they will face the winner of tonight’s 7 p.m. match between the Sun Devils and Eagles in tomorrow’s 4 p.m. second round for the Final Four.
This morning at 11:45 a.m., the third-ranked (20-4) Valley Vikings (Gilcrest) face the 27th-ranked Brush Beetdiggers (17-7) while the 15th-ranked Jefferson Academy Jaguars (17-7) play the 17-7 seventh-ranked Roaring Fork Rams in the 8:45 a.m. match.
A Pirate loss tonight would pit the Pirates against the loser of the Sun Devils-Eagles game in tomorrow morning’s 8:45 first consolation round; the winner will move on for the fifth-place consolation final at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.
Of course, if Pagosa wins tonight and tomorrow night, they will play in Saturday’s 5:15 p.m. championship game; if they win tonight but lose on Friday, they will play in Saturday’s 2 p.m. third-place round.
Naturally, Sorenson says he’ll let this weekend work its way out and stay focused on this afternoon’s match against the Buffaloes.
“They’re a really good team; they’re big, they can shoot the ball and know how to get points in transition,” he said.
“We’re going to have to start with our defense and find a way to score points,” he added.
And while Pirate fans know the Pagosa boys are good for the former, they also know that mastering the latter is the key to playing at 5:15 on Saturday.
Pirate fans can purchase a pass for all playoff sessions online at www.chssa.ticketleap.com for tickets that are cheaper than paying for individual sessions. The passes allow patrons to skip the lines onsite and directly enter the facility for all sessions.