Demons with chance to prove they’re playoff-ready

Emily McCue, Augusta Brockus and No. 10 seed Durango will try to put the clamps on seventh-seeded Pueblo East in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs Tuesday. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo

Emily McCue, Augusta Brockus and No. 10 seed Durango will try to put the clamps on seventh-seeded Pueblo East in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs Tuesday.

Durango is back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Now the Demons have a chance to prove they’re more than just happy to be here.

The Durango High School girls basketball team locked up its first postseason berth since advancing to the second round in Class 5A three seasons ago with a fifth-place finish at districts last weekend. And for their effort, the Demons (13-9) earned the No. 10 seed in the Carol Callan Region of the Class 4A playoffs and will visit No. 7 Pueblo East (13-10) on Tuesday at a time to be determined.

With a victory, Durango would travel to meet a more familiar foe, No. 2 Montrose, on Friday.

“Hopefully we will win,” DHS head coach Nancy Smith said. “It’d be nice to get a third shot at them.”

The Eagles enter Tuesday’s contest averaging 46.7 points per game, led by junior Kelsey Laughlin and her 16.1 points per game, while freshman Jailen Minich scores an average of 14.1 per contest.

“It seems like some of the teams in the other conferences have higher-scoring games,” Smith said. “I guess we saw that some with some of the Western Slope (League) opponents that we saw.”

Durango, meanwhile, hangs its hat on the defensive end of the floor, and Smith said she’s hoping that the Eagles’ lack of familiarity with Durango’s high-pressure defense will cause problems for the home team.

“That is what we rely heavy on is a strong defensive performance, and I hope seeing a different defense will cause confusion and make it hard even for them to get into their half-court offense,” she said. “That’s our goal is to cause confusion, and therefore cause turnovers and bad shots.”

The Demons had a couple of strong offensive performances of their own in two district victories. They scored 54 points in an overtime win over Steamboat Springs, led by 26 from senior Molly Barnes. And they poured in 44 in a win over Palisade, buoyed by 15 points and 13 rebounds by junior forward Emily McCue and 11 points from Barnes.

What Smith is most encouraged by is Durango’s improvement from the beginning of the year. It’s an improvement that helped the Demons win eight more games than last season.

“We’ve had a lot of growth through the season, so I hope Pueblo East gets scouting from people we played at the beginning of the season, because we’ve come a long way,” Smith said with a laugh.

It’s the first postseason appearance for Smith as DHS head coach and the first for the Demons since their current seniors were freshmen. Despite this, the Durango bench boss has confidence that last weekend’s district tournament helped prepare the Demons for what to expect when the playoffs begin.

“I think this district tournament did a lot to prepare us for this,” she said. “Traveling, being away, meeting tough, strong compeititon we don’t really know much about. The seniors the last few games of the district tournament did a marvelous job of stepping up and leading.”

Ready or not, on Tuesday, the playoffs are coming.

rowens@durangoherald.com