Durango boys launch 2013 against unbeaten Pagosa

Pirates ranked No. 2 in Class 3A

Durango head coach Alan Batiste and the Demons will kick off 2013 with a game tonight against Pagosa Springs, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 3A. Enlarge photo

Steve lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Durango head coach Alan Batiste and the Demons will kick off 2013 with a game tonight against Pagosa Springs, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 3A.

Twenty four days.

Just beyond the three-week mark since last taking the floor, the Durango High School boys basketball team, sitting at 5-2, finally will return to game action at 7:30 p.m. tonight after an extended holiday break.

And the Demons won’t be easing back into the schedule by any stretch.

Heading to town will be the Pagosa Springs Pirates, and they’ll bring a 7-0 record and the No. 2 ranking in Class 3A (The Denver Post) with them to Durango.

The last time the Demons had a bit of a layoff, they faltered at Farmington, but head coach Alan Batiste said he thinks his side has the maturity to prevent that particular piece of recent history from repeating itself.

“(You can get) so anxious because it’s going 110 miles per hour; the game’s moving fast,” he said. “I think we’re ready, and I think we’re experienced enough to handle it.

“Does it make me nervous as a coach? Yes, but I think the boys are ready.”

Recent history is on Durango’s side in that regard.

The Demons have won four consecutive games following the holiday break, including all three since Batiste was named head coach.

But usually those games come a week earlier than this one, and they aren’t usually Durango’s home opener or against a state-ranked opponent, albeit from a lower classification.

On the flip side of that, the Demons have had more practice time to poke and prod and tweak and fine-tune their attack, which Batiste said he thinks will help when Southwestern League play opens this weekend – with the road-tested Demons set to play their first four league games away from home.

“Being the fact that we didn’t get a chance (to play earlier after break) this year gave us more practice time, and I think it’ll benefit us more in the long run,” Batiste said.

Expect each team to try to imprint its style on the game early.

Pagosa Springs likely will prefer a higher-scoring affair, as the Pirates average 61 points per game.

Conversely, Durango brings a stout defense to the table, allowing 42 points per contest.

Keep an eye on Pirates point guard Kain Lucero, because the Demons sure will.

Lucero enters tonight’s contest averaging 20.4 points and 6.3 assists per game, making him the straw that stirs Pagosa’s drink.

Zachariah Griego’s 9.6 points per game and Garek Erskine’s 8.0 points and 8.6 rebounds per game make them a key supporting duo, but expect all eyes to be on Lucero.

“We know we just need to control their guard play because he makes their train run,” Batiste said.

“Penetration is going to be key. We need to control their penetration.”

Durango, meanwhile, can counter with size.

Durango has six players listed at 6-0 or taller and likely will need to pound the inside with the likes of Nick Hamlin to soften the Pirates’ defense, which could create kickout opportunities for sharpshooting guards such as Ty Elliott and Willy Frownfelter.

Just as key will be controlling the emotions upon finally playing at home, particularly in a game that should provide quite a compelling matchup.

“That is a big thing. Like I said, I think the boys are motivated that we do get a home game finally,” Batiste said.

“We’re trying to find our identity. We had a great win going into the break (over Palisade), and I think they’re just excited about starting the new year.”

rowens@durangoherald.com