A loss would have been understandable for the Ignacio High School boys basketball team Tuesday night at Whalen Gymnasium on the Fort Lewis College campus.
The Bobcats were without two starters, as Kai Roubideaux was out with a knee injury and Lawrence Valdez is academically ineligible, and shortly before the tipoff against Durango High School the team learned head coach Chris Valdez’s father and the grandfather of senior guard Johnny Valdez, Sylvia Taylor Valdez, had passed away.
But the Bobcats came together and held off the resilient Demons for a 56-51 victory.
“You know, it really wasn’t hard,” coach Vadlez said of coaching the game. “My dad, I remember as a kid running cross-country and track and basketball. Every time I left, if he couldn’t come to the game he would say, ‘Hey son, win one for me today. Get out there.’ My dad is a good man. We honored him with a win.
“Johnny hit two 3s and they were both off the glass. Gramps was like, ‘You gotta have one or two,’ and pushed them in.”
Johnny Valdez is the nephew of coach Valdez, but the impact of the loss was felt by more than the two Valdez men.
“The things we deal with in our locker room, we’re a family in there. We’re all brothers and care for each other,” Ignacio senior Kruz Pardo said. “Whenever somebody is down, we look for other people to step up. Just because we have freshmen playing, it doesn’t make them any less than our seniors we have playing. We’re missing our two leading scorers on the season, so we just had to go out there and play how we know how to play and bring it home for the people dealing with struggles at home.”
In what has been a frustrating season for the Demons offensively, the first quarter was one of their toughest stretches, as the team failed to score in the opening quarter and trailed 12-0.
But the struggles were quickly erased and the Demons (3-15) went on a 12-0 run during the opening three minutes of the quarter to tie the game.
“We came out flat and were going through the motions, and we’re not good enough to do that,” DHS head coach Alan Batiste said.
“Once we started getting some intensity and attacking the lane things opened up and we got some easy buckets.”
Durango kept the run going and took a 14-12 lead before Johnny Valdez banked in a 3-pointer with a little more than three minutes remaining that gave the lead back to the Bobcats (11-3).
It was the Bobcats only basket of the quarter, and the Demons took a 20-15 advantage into halftime.
The Demons kept the offense rolling in the third, and the Bobcats got back into a rhythm with the two teams trading baskets through much of the quarter.
“We went back into the locker room and talked about fundamentals,” Pardo said of the Bobcats’ halftime adjustments.
“Dribbling, making better passes, not trying to dribble through crazy defenses. We took better care of the ball in the second half.”
Ignacio took a 38-34 lead into the fourth quarter, and took control of the fourth while the Demons ran out of juice – for a bit.
The Bobcats built their lead to 45-34 before the Demons came charging back and got the deficit to 47-41 with 1:53 to go after a Seth Johnson and-1.
But Ignacio answered back immediately with a successful and-1 from freshman Dylan Labarth with 1:44 that put the lead to 50-41.
The back-and-forth continued, as the Demons answered with five quick points to make it 50-46 with 55.8 seconds remaining, but the Bobcats converted at the free-throw line to secure the victory.
Cole McCaw led the Bobcats with 14 points, Pardo finished with 12 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the free-throw line, and Johnny Valdez had 10 points.
Johnson led all scorers with 23 points for the Demons, and Cullen Robinette added 10 points.
Durango (1-4 5A/4A Southwestern League) will host Fruita Monument (14-7, 5-1 SWL) on Friday, while the Bobcats (8-0 2A/1A San Juan Basin League) head to Telluride to take on the Miners (6-8, 5-3 SJBL).