After falling behind by 10 points at halftime and trailing by 13 midway through the third quarter, the Dolores High School boys basketball team nearly pulled off an improbable comeback against Ouray on Feb. 20.
A 3-point shot attempt by Bears junior Tru Seekins as the buzzer sounded was just off the mark, however, as Dolores fell 51-49 in front of an energized group of home fans that energetically cheered their team from start to finish.
“They played their hearts out,” Dolores head coach Justin Schmitt said. “In the first half, we dug a hole, and we were playing kind of tentatively. In the second half, we started in that man (defense) and things went well. That’s on me, I should’ve changed the defense sooner.”
While the Bears’ shift in defensive scheme was nearly enough to carry them to victory, their comeback attempt was ultimately stymied by Ouray senior Jackson Leo, who scored a game-high 22 points and kept Dolores defenders on their heels throughout the night.
Among the 5-feet-5-inch guard’s most impressive stretches came during an opening quarter scoring display that saw him drain two long 3-point field goals and knock down two difficult after fearless drives into the lane to give his team a 12-10 lead after eight minutes of play.
“Growing up, I was always a small kid,” Leo said. “Once I get on the court, I don’t really see height, I see skill. I think at the end of the day, skill prevails.”
After tying the game at 12 on a baseline layup by senior Justin Brunner and again at 14 after on pretty post move and layup by senior Keegan Spurlock, Dolores struggled to contain the Trojans and entered halftime trailing 28-18.
A 3-pointer by Leo midway through the third quarter made the score 39-28 in favor of Ouray before a six straight points by Dolores junior Ryan Nowlin energized home fans and narrowed the Dolores gap to 39-34. “I always try to put in my effort,” Nowlin said. “In a close game like this, you really need to step it up and give it all you got. The second half, we definitely started to pull it together. Coach told us at halftime that we needed to step up the intensity, and that’s exactly what we did.”
As the energy of Dolores players continued to grow and the crowd noise inside the gymnasium increased, the Bears continued to find holes in Ouray’s defense as senior Kevin Purkat banked in a difficult layup off the glass and scored a transition layup to cut the Trojans lead to 48-42.
Another great move and finish by Spurlock in the paint made the score 48-44 and a layup by Dolores senior Wyatt Koskie moments later made the score 48-46 with just over three minutes left in the game.
As Leo tried desperately to keep his team ahead with fearless drives to the basket and pretty passes to open teammates, Dolores fans voiced their disapproval every time Ouray’s energetic guard touched the ball and jeered loudly every time he missed a shot.
“I was able to feed off that,” said Leo. “It was really nice to be able to have fans in here. It’s our first game that has had fans since last March. The energy was really good, and there was some friendly trash talk that made the game better.”
Down 51-48 with 21 seconds left, Dolores drew closer after Hayden Tallmadge was fouled and knocked down one of his two free throws. After Leo missed a free throw with 14 seconds left, the Bears had a chance to win, but saw what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer by Seekins glance off the left iron.
“We had a play, but it didn’t work out,” Schmitt said. “It was probably a bad play on my part. I thought we had run another play often enough that a decoy would free (Seekins) up for a three. When it fell apart, I should’ve called time out. The end of the game was on me.”
Leading the way offensively for Dolores in the loss were Nowlin, with 12 points, Spurlock with eight, and Koskie, Seekins and Purkat with six. Ouray was led offensively by Leo’s 22 points and Kaden Nelson’s 16.
With their record now at 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the San Juan Basin League, Dolores will prepare for a tough road matchup against SJBL powerhouse Ignacio on Feb. 23.
“There has only been one game this year where we haven’t been competitive,” Schmitt said. “We’ve lost two overtime games, and we were close in every game except Mancos. I know we can beat anybody in our league, but we’re going to have to have a good enough record to get into the playoffs and that’s going to be a challenge.”