Playing in his last high school basketball game, Dove Creek High School senior Hayden Gray was not about to let his team lose at home to Dolores High School on March 8.
Digging deep throughout the final quarter of a game that could have gone either way, Gray lifted his team to a 55-47 victory.
With the win, Dove Creek improved its record to 7-6 overall and 6-3 in the San Juan Basin League, while Dolores dropped to 5-9 overall and 4-7 in the SJBL. Dove Creek narrowly missed making the Class 1A postseason tournament despite a winning record.
While the game’s outcome was positive for Dove Creek, the first quarter of the SJBL matchup was rocky as Dolores senior Kevin Purkat drilled a 3-pointer on the opening possession and knocked down two 3-pointers later in the quarter to give his team a 17-8 lead.
If not for Bulldogs sophomore Kendall Gardner, who drilled a 3-pointer and scored four points in the first eight minutes, the Bears’ lead might have been bigger given that Dolores was dominant on both ends of the floor.
“You’ve just gotta be confident with your shooting, and when you’re open, you’ve just gotta take it,” said Gardner, who knocked down two 3-pointers in the contest and scored a season-high 13 points.
As the second quarter got underway with Dolores leading by nine points, the Bears continued to move the ball well in their half-court offense and pulled ahead 23-12 when senior Keegan Spurlock drove past Gardner for a score off the glass.
Four points from Gray and a clutch 3-pointer by reserve guard Preston Spigner with three minutes left helped the Bulldogs narrow the gap to 23-19 before the Bears closed the quarter with a small run to pull ahead 26-21 heading into halftime.
As the second half got underway and momentum hung in the balance, the physicality of the game picked up much to the chagrin of Gray and Dove Creek junior Blaine Johnson, who consistently bullied Dolores players in the paint.
“Football is a big part of (our physicality),” Johnson said. “The main thing with our winning season this year is the new weight lifting and conditioning program that we got. It has made a tremendous change in all of our sports.”
After Tru Seekins drained a tough jumper along the baseline to give his team a 36-34 lead, Gray bulled his way to the low block and drained a turnaround jump shot to tie the game at 36 heading into the final quarter.
A 3-pointer and a runner by Gardner to begin the fourth quarter gave Dove Creek a five-point lead, and after two free throws by sophomore Tanner Williams and a layup by sophomore Kade Hankins, the Bulldogs led by nine with 5:52 to play.
Although Seekins hit two 3-pointers in the final four minutes, the Dolores sophomore’s heroics were not enough as Dove Creek hung on for a nine-point victory.
Scoring leaders for the Bulldogs included Gray with 14 points, Gardner with 13 points, Hankins with 13 points, and Williams with nine. Dolores was paced by Seekins, who had 18 points, and Hayden Tallmadge, who chipped in 10.
While missing out on postseason play stung Dove Creek, players said they would use this season’s losses to improve for next year.
“We worked hard this year, and we had one of the best teams that we’ve had in a long time,” Johnson said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re family. We spend every minute of pretty much every day together.”