Apparently, the Pirates sat down at the casino this weekend and ran the table, hitting blackjack in four straight hands — scoring 21 each quarter — to beat the Salida Spartans 84-40 at home last Saturday night.
“Yeah, we were pretty consistent with that,” laughed Pirate head coach Randy Sorenson.
However, it was overall consistency that led to the Pirates’ victory.
Indeed, Pagosa’s depth from the bench was once again a factor in Saturday’s victory with 11 out of 12 players scoring in the game, eight of those players scoring 69 of the Pirates’ 84 points. Likewise, the defense helped the Pirates dominate the floor, with Pagosa logging 23 steals and 35 rebounds, but only allowing nine turnovers the entire game.
From the start, the Pirates came out fast, combining a quick, precision offense with a stingy defense. Outscoring the Spartans 21-7 in the first, the Pirates held to their game, outscoring Salida 21-9 in the second and leaving the half with a commanding 42-16 lead.
“We came out strong,” said Sorenson. “We got some turnovers early that turned into some fast break points.”
However, it was a physical game as well, no doubt with emotions running high with some scores to settle from the football season (when a Spartan player was sanctioned following a cheap shot to a Pirate lineman).
To those ends, two Pirate players were called on intentional fouls (another was called on a Salida player), indicating the physicality of the game.
“I think they were just frustration fouls,” Sorenson said.
Penalties and a loosening of the defense gave the Spartans a slight leg up in the second half, but nothing near enough to put them back into the game. Outscored 21-13 in the third, the Spartans were never allowed to catch up, even with younger Pirates coming off the bench and, outscored 21-11 in the fourth, the Spartans took a long bus ride home with an 84-40 defeat.
Sorenson said, “I was a little disappointed with our defense in the second half. We never should have allowed 40 points.”
Sorenson added, “We didn’t adjust to the refereeing very well. They took 28 free-throw shots and made 19 points, so they scored almost half their points from the free-throw line.”
In fact, shooting almost 70 percent from the free-throw line, the Spartans not only captured an edge off of Pagosa fouls, but showed the Pirates the importance of gaining composure at the line. Although showing some improvement from the free-throw line on Saturday night, breaking 58 percent during the game (previous performances have been 50 percent or worse), it is a skill that the Pirates need to fine tune.
Nevertheless, despite a need to learn how to convert on fouls against them, the Pirates proved themselves to be worthy of their ranking from the field.
As with consistency in scoring in all four quarters, the Pirates showed tremendous balance with three players scoring 15 points in the game — Daniel Puskas (who led the team with six rebounds), Tyson Ross (leading the team with six steals) and Kain Lucero (who also had a team-leading eight assists). Dean Hampton finished second in scoring with 11 points, while Sean Blanchard had seven points and five steals.
As with the rest of the state, Saturday marked the end of the 2011 portion of this basketball season, giving the Pirates time to regroup and hone some skills.
“We’re going to work on the basics during the break,” Sorenson said, “and get back to the fundamentals. We need to work on some things or it’s going to be rough when we meet much tougher teams later in the season.”
Pagosa Springs goes into 2012 perched atop the Intermountain League with 5-0 record, followed by the Centauri Falcons (6-2), the Alamosa Mean Moose (5-2), the Monte Vista Pirates (4-2) and the Bayfield Wolverines (3-4).
Although Denver Post Preps dropped the Pirates to No. 5 in state 3A basketball (as of press time Wednesday), that drop was due to the Faith Christian Eagles curiously shooting up to the top of the poll from their ninth spot last week with a 5-1 record (the only team in the top five with a loss). That bullet most likely came on the heels of a Dec. 17 51-33 victory at home against the 10th-ranked Eaton Reds.
The Eagles’ leap to the top placed the Colorado Springs Christian Lions (4-0) and the 5-0 Valley Vikings in a two-way tie for second. Fourth in the poll was the underrated 7-0 Manitou Springs Mustangs.
Following the long winter break, the Pirates return Thursday, Jan. 5, to step up a notch, hosting the 4A Durango Demons. Coming into the match with a 6-5 record, the Demons stumbled last weekend on the Front Range at the Pueblo East tournament, taking three straight losses.
Last year, the Pirates beat the Demons 52-39 in Durango.
Nonetheless, Sorenson said his team needs to be prepared for early January.
“It’s a huge game for our whole season, coming out of the break and playing a much bigger team,” Sorenson said.
“I think it was a pivotal point in our season when we beat them last year in Durango. But they’re a better basketball team this year and they have some returning players, like point guard Easton Garcia, who could give us some trouble.”
Two days after hosting the Demons, the Pirates hit the road on Saturday, Jan. 7, to give the Spartans a shot at revenge in Salida. Despite the home court advantage, last Saturday’s game showed little indication that the Spartans have sufficient cohesion to break the hold of the Pirate defense, nor the experience to counter Pagosa’s offensive depth.
The Pirates play their first two league matches the following week, traveling to Centauri on Jan. 13, then hosting Bayfield the following night.