Prior to the start of the season, Pirate head coach Randy Sorenson said, “We’re deeper than we were last year and we’ll have an opportunity to get a lot of kids out there on the floor.”
That depth was in evidence during last weekend’s Wolf Creek Classic tournament when the Pirates smoked the Dolores Bears 83-21 on Friday night then returned on Saturday night to win the tournament crown with a big 51-31 victory over the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers.
While the Pirates had their usual standouts scoring on both nights, almost every player on the team logged points during each game as Sorenson regularly cycled players in and out of the action — not just when his team was well ahead of their opponents (especially the case on Friday night), but as well when the team saw its lead slipping during the opening minutes if the third quarter on Saturday.
Plenty of Pirates found floor time on Friday against an overwhelmed Bears squad, with all 12 Pirates earning points in the game.
“We definitely have 12 kids that can play and they all contributed,” Sorenson said.
Getting off to a fairly slow start offensively, the Pirates capitalized on numerous Dolores mistakes while shining on defense. Scoring just 15 points in the first, the Pirates held the Bears to just a single bucket.
That defense served the Pirates well throughout the rest of the game, allowing for the offensive attack to explode during the next two quarters. Holding the Bears to single digits until less than a minute left in the second, the Pirates unleashed a torrent of baskets, outscoring Dolores 23-8 in the quarter to leave the half with a 38-10 lead.
It was during the third when Pagosa guns unloaded on the Bears, giving Sorenson confidence enough to clear his bench and allow his younger players to grab some essential playing time. Outscoring Dolores 34-5 in the quarter, the Pirates went into the fourth with a commanding 72-15 lead.
The Bears had their only chance against Pagosa’s young guys in the fourth and even then, found themselves held to single digits, outscored 11-7 at the end, giving the Pirates an 83-21 victory.
Sorenson said, “The kids did what we asked them to do. We executed on offense and played a solid half-court defense.”
The Bears lost the consolation round on Saturday, falling 55-23 to the Gunnison Cowboys.
Tyson Ross led the team with 13 points and tying Kain Lucero with four steals each (Lucero led the team with 12 assists). Clay Ross finished with 12 points followed by Quinn Smith with nine points. Clay Ross and Zachariah Griego both led the team with 10 rebounds each.
On the heels of a 62-51 victory over the Cowboys on Friday, the Panthers appeared poised to snatch the Wolf Creek Classic crown from the Pirates on Saturday night. Playing a tough defense to match Pagosa’s stingy style, the Panthers held the Pirates to 13 points in the first while all eight Panther points came from the hands of MCHS standout Jay Ranier (who finished with 17 points for the night).
The defensive battle continued in the second quarter, with both teams held to single digits during the quarter. In fact, the Panthers had the upper hand in the second, outscoring the Pirates 9-8 and leaving the half with just a four point deficit, the Pirates up 21-17 going into the third.
The Panthers managed to narrow the spread to just three points early in the second half and looked to take the lead behind muffed Pirate passes and missed Pagosa looks.
As far as the Pirates offense during the first half and early third quarter, Sorenson said, “I think our kids got ahead of themselves a little bit.”
Sorenson also conceded, “Our defense wasn’t that good in the first half.”
After several missed opportunities early in the third, along with problems with ball control and a general malaise that appeared to have Pirate players tripping over their own feet, the Pagosa boys turned it around. Settling in on both offense and defense, the Pirates outscored MCHS 18-6 in the third quarter behind two three-pointers by Lucero and another one by Tyson Ross that just beat the buzzer.
Up 39-23 going into the fourth, the Pirates took the pace down a few notches, chewing up ticks on the clock while holding the Panthers outside the paint. Outscoring the Panthers 12-8 in the final period, the Pirates snatched the tournament crown for the third consecutive year.
“We didn’t really attack their zone in the first half,” Sorenson said. “We did a much better job in the second half, attacking their zone and getting off some good shots.”
Tyson Ross led in scoring with 15 points (six of those on two three-pointers) with Lucero scoring 11 points, leading the team with a hat trick of three pointers, as well as logging five assists. Griego, Daniel Puskas, Gabe Lister, Eli Stephens and Sean Blanchard each scored four points in the game; Stephens led the team with five steals while Clay Ross led with seven rebounds.
The Pirates showed some improvement from the free-throw line, breaking 50 percent in both games, a little better than their percentages last week at the Buena Vista tournament. However, the Pirates need to show improvement capturing potential free points if they hope to return to Fort Collins this year.
With another tournament crown in hand, the Pirates are perched at the top of the Intermountain League with a 4-0 record. The Centauri Falcons are in second place with a 4-2 record followed by the Monte Vista Pirates at 3-2 this season. The 2-2 Alamosa Mean Moose are fourth in IML standings while, sitting in the basement, the 2-3 Bayfield Wolverines are struggling after having lost 6-5 senior forward and standout Seth Posey for the remainder of the year.
As of last Wednesday, Denver Post Preps had Pagosa Springs ranked fourth in state 3A basketball.
Tomorrow night, the Pirates host the 2A Sargent Farmers. Although stepping down a division for a Friday night match, the Pirates should not expect to steamroll their opponents the way they did Dolores. At 3-1, the Farmers have fared well against two IML teams, defeating Monte Vista 47-38 on Dec. 1 and barely losing to Centauri 41-40 the next night. The Farmers repeated against Monte Vista on Dec. 8 with a 57-41 win.
Last year, the Pirates eked out a 46-39 victory in Sargent against the Farmers.
“They got some kids back from last year,” Sorenson said. “I expect a good game from them.”
The Pirates return to inter-division play on Saturday night to host the 3A Salida Spartans. However, just as the Farmers appear to be playing above their pay scale, the same cannot be said about the Spartans. At 1-3 (the record will change following tonight’s match against Centauri), Salida lost 46-30 on Dec. 6 against the Gunnison Cowboys — a team the Pirates trounced 50-18 on Dec. 2 at the Buena Vista tournament.
“I don’t think they’re really deep, but I know their first five are really good and I expect a real test from them,” Sorenson said.
Following Saturday’s game, the Pirates will get some rest during the long winter break, returning Jan. 7 to host the 4A Durango Demons, a team the Pirates beat last year 52-39 for an impressive road win.
Friday’s game is set for a 7 p.m. tipoff, while Saturday’s match begins with an earlier 4 p.m. start time.