On an evening many fans expected to feature a competitive game between two Class 2A San Juan Basin League powerhouses, the No. 13 Ignacio Bobcats played with composure and purpose while the No. 3 Mancos Bluejays imploded.
The result was a one-sided contest that saw Ignacio pull ahead by 12 points by halftime before stretching their lead to 24 points in the fourth quarter and eventually settling for a 68-50 victory on Mancos’ home floor.
Ignacio senior Bryce Finn led his team in scoring with 18 points, and fellow Ignacio senior Brady McCaw scored 16. Mancos was led offensively by junior Edgar Hernandez, who scored 15 points, and freshman Kail Wayman, who chipped in 12.
“We wanted to go inside because there is a size difference,” said Bobcats’ head coach Chris Valdez. “Obviously, we’ve got some guards that can post up their guards. I just thought our kids kept their composure a little better than the other team.”
Just how vast the difference in the composure of the two squads was became evident late in the second quarter when Bluejays leading scorer Connor Showalter was whistled for his fourth foul while playing defense in the paint.
Incensed by what he perceived to be an incorrect call, the junior star voiced his displeasure with the referees and was assessed a technical foul, which marked his fifth foul and disqualified him from the remainder of the game.
“I didn’t do my job,” Mancos head coach Bob Archibeque said. “Don’t blame it on the kids. It’s my fault, I didn’t coach. I didn’t get them where they needed to be.”
Over the next two-plus quarters, Archibeque and Wayman also picked up technical fouls, which led to three Ignacio points and stymied what appeared to be runs in the making by the Bluejays squad.
“It’s in games like this where you cannot start chipping off and yelling at the refs,” Valdez said. “I drill it into my kids. If my guys up-show the refs, I’ll pull them out of the game and sit them down. (Mancos) is as good as us if not better. They lost their heads a little bit.”
While the Bluejays loss of composure was partially to blame for their lopsided loss, so, too, was the ability of Ignacio to deftly run its half-court offense while generating uncontested layups and jump shots for its stars.
Ahead 17-8 at the end of the first quarter, the Bobcats showed just how lethal their offensive sets can be when junior Gabe Tuscon knifed along the baseline and scored a reverse layup on his team’s opening possession of the second quarter before senior Joe Garcia knocked down a corner 3-pointer to put Ignacio ahead 22-8.
“(Garcia) is our fourth option out there,” Valdez said. “He sits on the back side of all of the action, and when everybody sucked in on our big guys, he really stepped up and hit a few shots. He also got a few big rebounds. I was really impressed by his play.”
Although two nice buckets by Hernandez, four straight points from Showalter and an off-balance runner by Wayman made the score 28-18 and gave the impression that a Bluejays comeback was possible, Showalter’s personal foul and technical foul stymied momentum, and the Bobcats carried a 32-20 lead into halftime.
“(Finn) had two fouls in the first quarter, and so did Showalter,” Valdez said. “The start of the second quarter, Showalater fouled 9Finn) and got his third. They were complaining about every foul. Everybody complains about fouls, but they were belligerent about it. They left Showalater in, and I couldn’t believe it. So we kept going at him and tried to get him his fourth, and we did.”
With Showalter on the bench and Finn holding a clear size advantage inside, Ignacio pounded the ball into the post, and their senior star responded by scoring 11 points during a third quarter that ended with the Bobcats ahead 54-32.
After an old-fashioned three-point play by Finn put Ignacio ahead 60-34 early in the fourth quarter, Valdez emptied his bench and the Bobcats slowed down their offensive attack while the Bluejays cut into their lead thanks in part to five fourth-quarter points by freshman Chris Medina.
In the end, Mancos never pushed Ignacio out if its comfort zone and as the minutes ticked away in the fourth quarter, Archibeque called a timeout and implored his team to stay together no matter what.
IHS was happy to be back to full strength for one of the few times all season, as McCaw returned from an illness and also missed games earlier in the season with an ankle injury.
Tucson also scored 15 points for IHS, while Garcia finished with 13. Valdez was happy to see Finn go 8-of-9 at the foul line, while Tucson was 4-of-4 at the line.
It was another big win for IHS in Mancos’ gym after the Bobcats beat Mancos in the regional championship a year ago to reach the Class 2A Great 8 of the state tournament when Mancos again was the higher-ranked team.
“I tried to downplay this game as much as I could,” Valdez said. “I put that big third-place ranking on Mancos’ shoulders. They had all the pressure. They’re carrying all that pressure around with that ranking and losing to us last year and trying to get that revenge. We just focused on playing our game and played loose the whole game.”
With their record now at 5-2 overall and 4-0 in the San Juan Basin League, the Bobcats will look ahead to a home game against Sargent on Friday and a home contest against Telluride on Saturday.
Fresh off its first defeat of the season, the Bluejays will put their 6-1 overall record and their 4-1 league record on the line when they hit the road to face Dolores on Friday.
“It’s just one game,” Archibeque said. “It’s only one game. The kids will learn from this and get better.”
Herald sports editor John Livingston contributed to this report.