Ignacio High School played without star senior guard Brady McCaw on Friday night. Paired with the stellar play of senior forward Bryce Finn, Ignacio’s Gabe Tucson and Dylan Labarthe did plenty to fill the void for the Bobcats.
Labarthe and Tucson were strong in the rebounding department all night, and key offensive rebounds led Ignacio to a 15-7 lead after one quarter against Montezuma-Cortez in the opening game of the fifth annual Southwest Classic tournament played this year at Durango High School.
The Bobcats (1-1) only continued to build that lead all game on the way to a 48-32 victory.
Finn delivered consistent scoring inside and outside and proved a strong presence defensively in the paint. He finished with 21 points.
“With Brady out, that’s losing about 15 points a game. Him and I are our leading scorers, so I knew I had to step it up and get as much as I could,” Finn said. “I shot when I was open and got to the basket on some defenders I knew I could score on.”
Montezuma-Cortez (1-2) was led by John T. Carver. The guard scored the team’s first 10 points before Austin Wood made a 3-pointer in the second quarter. Carver finished with a team-best 12 points. IHS limited him to only two points in the second half.
“We wanted to make sure we knew where he was and that we would pick him up in transition,” IHS head coach Chris Valdez said of Carver. “If we gave up a basket, that was OK as long as we didn’t give him an outside shot.”
The Panthers put together a 6-0 run in the fourth quarter to get within 38-25, but Finn drained a 3 from the wing to make it 41-25.
“We had a tendency last year to lose 15-point leads in the fourth quarter,” Finn said. “When they had that 6-0 run, I got a little worried. But, being a senior, I wanted to get something to put us back in control, and that was a big shot for us I think.”
At halftime, Valdez called on the Bobcats to push the ball up the floor to Labarthe after every rebound. He finished with 14 points with two key fastbreak layups in the fourth quarter.
“We thought transition baskets would be there. That’s my favorite part of the game. I’m fast and know I can do it,” Labarthe said.
Tucson had a big game collecting steals and rebounds and delivering long outlet passes down the court, showing his quarterback prowess from his football days. His favorite receiver, Labarthe, was on the receiving end of that. Tucson finished with six points, all scored in the first quarter.
“Those guys were huge,” Valdez said of Labarthe and Tucson. “We watched them coming into this game and knew if we could outrebound them we could win the game I think we dominated the boards pretty good. We ran them a bit, and they were trying to get up and down the floor, and so were we. They had to hustle back on defense, and with that transition, their shooters got tired late. They didn’t hit as many shots as they usually do. They’re a really good shooting team. Our kids played well and got all the rebounds they needed.”
Montezuma-Cortez showed its lack of experience after graduating its three top scorers from a year ago. The Panthers also were without three players, including two starters. Wood finished with nine points, while Gabriel Crowley and Joshua Chupp each had four.
It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Panthers’ offense broke double-digit scoring for a quarter, and it came thanks to more balance.
“We want to carry some of that speed and momentum we had there for a bit in the fourth to (Saturday’s) game,” M-CHS head coach Mike Hall said. “We are really short-handed right now, but that’s not an excuse. You have to make easy chip shots and layups we missed. But we will be fine and recover.”
McCaw was in uniform on the Ignacio bench, but his right shoe remained off all game while he wore a brace to support an injured Achilles. Valdez said he is day-to-day.
“He’s hurting right now. He has practiced, but it’s real tender,” Valdez said. “This isn’t what is important right now. League is important, and we want him to be right going into league.”
Both teams will play again Saturday in the tournament at DHS. Montezuma-Cortez will clash with Durango at 1 p.m.
“Durango is always tough and a lot bigger than we are size-wise,” Hall said. “We gotta keep the pace up, and we hope one of our guys can come back from injury tomorrow. It would be good to have an extra body out there. We’re playing a lot of young kids right now, but it’s good experience for them. I love seeing them get experience in high-intensity games like that.”
IHS will face Pine River rival Bayfield at 11 a.m.
“I’m excited to play Bayfield again. It’s always one of the games we look forward to most,” Finn said. “We’ve been playing those guys since third grade. As a senior, we get one last crack at them before we’re done.”