Since the first game of his team’s season, Dolores High School basketball coach Justin Schmitt anticipated a breakout performance from junior forward Hayden Tallmadge.
Luckily for Schmitt and the Bears, that breakout performance came at the best possible time as Tallmadge scored a team-high 20 points and knocked down several big shots during the second half as Dolores came from behind to defeat Nucla, 76-60, on Friday.
“Hayden had a breakout game, which we’ve been waiting for him to do,” Schmitt said. “He was feeling it today, which was awesome.”
While Tallmadge’s offensive outburst and Dolores’ unselfish play ended up being the biggest storylines of contest, the early stages of the game were all about Nucla forward Tyler Wytulka, who was unstoppable in the paint and scored 14 of his game-high 26 points during the first half.
Thanks in large part to the junior, Nucla lead 18-7 at the end of the first quarter and carried a 34-31 lead into halftime.
“(Wytulka) is a big, athletic guy, and he leads our league in scoring,” Schmitt said. “I thought our guys actually defended him well. Nucla is not a bad team. Their record doesn’t look great, but they’ve beaten some good teams and played well against some good teams and gotten close.”
In the second half, Dolores attacked the basket on nearly every possession while junior guards William Swagerty and Keagan Ertel-Morales turned up their backcourt defense.
A 3-pointer by senior Trey Seekins cut Nucla’s lead to 38-36 with about six minutes left in the third quarter before sophomore Wyatt Koskie exerted his will in the paint and scored six straight points to give the Bears a 42-38 lead.
Tallmadge then came through with what were likely his team’s two biggest buckets of the game when he pulled up and hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with just under a minute to go in the quarter. He then brought the crowd to its feet by draining a 3-pointer along the right baseline as the third quarter expired to put his team ahead 48-40.
“I haven’t been shooting threes as good this year, so I’ve just been working on my inside game and pushing it,” Tallmadge said. “That work and just attacking the basket really helped me open up my (outside) game tonight.”
Up by eight points to begin the final quarter, Dolores poured it on during the final eight minutes, moving the ball and involving multiple players in the offense.
Three-pointers by Swagerty and sophomore True Seekins and a loud Dolores student put an exclamation point on the win.
“I wish we had that (crowd noise) every game,” Tallmadge said. “I just hope that people see what happens here and know that we can do that against any team. I hope people come out to all of our games.”
In addition to Tallmadge’s 20 points, Dolores received nine points from True Seekins, Koski and Swagerty and eight points from Trey Seekins and junior Keegan Spurlock. Nucla received 26 points from Wytulka and 14 from Riley Porter and Cael Spangler.
“I just knew we were the better team,” Tallmadge said. “We had some lapses on defense, but we got things turned up. We played our hearts out and we put everything on the line.”
Now 5-9 overall and 2-5 in the San Juan Basin League, Dolores will look ahead to a critical road matchup against Dove Creek on Feb. 4. The Bears will then travel to Ouray on Feb. 8 for another key SJBL game.