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DHS’s playoff journey to start with Wildcats

Durango will face Pueblo Central at home Wednesday in first round

Ty Elliott and the Durango Demons will open their second-consecutive postseason run Wednesday at home against Pueblo Central. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Ty Elliott and the Durango Demons will open their second-consecutive postseason run Wednesday at home against Pueblo Central.

The path to six starts with a single step.

That’s how many wins it’ll take if the Durango High School boys basketball team harbors hopes of a Class 4A state title.

But before entertaining such grandiose ideas, the Demons have to take care of the opponent right in front of them. That would be Pueblo Central. Durango (16-6) earned the No. 6 seed in the Guy Gibbs Region of the Class 4A tournament, and the Demons will open their second-consecutive state tournament appearance at home Wednesday against the No. 11 Wildcats (7-16) at a time yet to be determined.

“All we know is they play in a league where they compete every night,” DHS head coach Alan Batiste said of the South Central League, which qualified five of six teams for the postseason. “Hard-nosed basketball similar to Palisade’s kind of play.”

Durango, which was bounced in the second round last year, will be coming off a loss to Palisade in the district championship game, one that saw the Bulldogs earn a No. 5 seed. As far as seeding goes, Batiste said he felt the seeding committee was “respectful” when it came to the Demons’ placement in the 48-team field.

“They hit it dead on,” he said. “I like our division. Eventually as you go on in the tournament bracket, you eventually have to start playing ones and twos at some point.”

The top seed in Durango’s section of the bracket is defending state champion Lewis-Palmer, but to get to them, DHS must first get through Pueblo Central, then a second-round game with No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain in Pueblo and likely a Sweet 16 game against No. 2 Pueblo East.

But one game at a time. The Demons will hope to get healthy before Wednesday, with forward Nick Hamlin and guard Dane Mestas missing time last weekend with ankle injuries. DHS likely will need both if they hope to win multiple games at the state tournament level.

“It’s still up in the air. ... Still day-to-day with Nick and Dane. Hopefully they can handle it,” Batiste said.

The Wildcats are led offensively by 6-1 freshman Michael Ranson, who averages 15 points per game, and they score 47 points per game. Pueblo Central’s roster is similar to that of Durango’s in the sense that they have a lot of players right around the 6-foot mark height-wise.

And the Wildcats’ record, given the league competition, may be deceptive. Alongside quality conference competition, their schedule contains losses to Lewis-Palmer and St. Michael’s of Santa Fe, N.M. They do, however, enter the game losers of four in a row and six of their last seven.

Still, even with a victory Wednesday, the road beyond that isn’t easy. Then again, it’s not supposed to be.

And, not knowing a ton about any upcoming opponents, it’s time to focus on perfecting what your team does best.

“We just have to do what we have to do as a basketball team and not get too caught up on what the other team’s doing,” Batiste said.

rowens@durangoherald.com