It was a frantic 2A/1A San Juan Basin League opener for the Ignacio High School boys basketball team, as the host Bobcats and Dolores went back and forth Tuesday night at IHS.
Dolores’ Tristen Swagerty finished with a game-high 36 points and helped the Bears edge Ignacio 68-65.
IHS head coach Chris Valdez called the pace and the final few minutes of the game “chaos.”
“We’re a team that has no starters from last year, and so what I saw was a lack of leadership,” Valdez said. “I can’t be the leader from the sidelines as much as I want to be. I take credit for the loss, that’s what coaches do. But we also have to make layups, we also have to defend better, especially down the stretch.
“The pace was so fast out there tonight, and there were times where we just had a defensive lapse and it cost us. With a young team like this, we’ve got to drill this stuff into them, and we just haven’t had the time with this young group because we had so many experienced guys last year, and they just have to get more minutes on the floor.”
Ignacio had a chance to tie the game in the final moments after Triston Thompson stole an inbounds pass and found Bryce Finn at the top of the 3-point line with only seconds remaining, but Finn’s shot went off the right iron as the buzzer sounded.
It was the season-opener for the Bears (1-0, 1-0 2A/1A SJBL), and they made the most of the opportunities down the stretch, while Ignacio (1-2, 0-1 SJBL) was unable despite plenty of chances.
“We got a good look, a great look, actually,” Valdez said of the final shot.
“It just didn’t fall, and sometimes the bounce just didn’t go our way. We had so many opportunities to get a victory, starting with our layups. We probably missed 18 layups tonight, and we had one-on-one opportunities just like they did. We have sophomores and a freshmen down there trying to make those shots, and they just couldn’t come up with them.”
Finn was Ignacio’s leading scorer, as he finished with 21 points. Keegan Schurman had 13, Thompson finished with 12 and Brady McCaw added 11.
Ignacio led with just over two minutes remaining when senior center Neil Farias made two key plays to help put Dolores in the lead for good. Swagerty found Farias wide open for an easy layup in the post to tie the game at 63. Moments later, Farias came up with a steal and took it to the hoop where he was fouled. He made one of two free throws to give his side a 65-64 lead.
Bears head coach Larry Schwartz was thrilled with how his side handled a raucous crowd in Ignacio.
“We’re just so happy to come in here to get a W for once,” Schwartz said. “Ignacio is the cream of the crop in this league. They’re so well-coached by (Valdez), but we’re just happy as can be. I knew that this would be a close-fought game, and we just kept battling down the stretch.”
Schwartz’s star also came up huge. Late in the game, Swagerty gave up his body to draw a charge. He was a floor general when his team needed him and dished out assists on the Bears’ final two baskets.
The senior said the victory on the road was “years in the making.”
“It feels so good to finally come up with a win here,” Swagerty said. “We fought so much these past few seasons, and for us to finally get a win the way we did, it really means a lot. Our defense toward the end of the game was great, and while they got their open shots there at the end, shoot, the game was ours.”
Valdez said it wasn’t the first time Swagerty poured points on his Bobcats team.
“He went off like that two years ago, as well,” Valdez said. “He looked the same as he did tonight. We figured out how to stop him, and it comes back to our defense. Our help defense was horrible tonight. The ball is passed, we follow a guy away from the ball, turn our head and, boom, they find Swagerty cutting in the lane for a bucket. Those are just little things that we have to do better.”
The game was tied at 48 with three minutes remaining in the third quarter when Ignacio finally took its first lead of the second half off of a layup from Thompson. The Bobcats’ final two possessions of the quarter got the crowd on its feet, as they made back-to-back 3-pointers to take a 56-52 lead heading into the final frame.
The Bobcats led 25-18 after the first quarter only to give up 22-second quarter points to trail 40-38 at halftime.
“We were down seven points midway through the first half, and even at the end of the quarter, and I thought ‘here we go again,’” said Schwartz. “But again, these guys are so resilient and they’re fighters. They’ve been battling it out now for a month and we’ve had this game circled on our calendars for a while. And then they did it on the court tonight, they believed. We told the kids a month ago that we were going to start the season against six ranked teams, and Ignacio, just because of how well they play at home, we knew would be up there as one of our toughest.”
In the final quarter, the Bobcats were outscored 16-9 and could not get defensive stops when they needed them the most.
“Sixty-five points, that’s not a bad total, but they didn’t play defense, either,” Valdez said. “They’re just like us; we’re twin teams with no defense. It again comes back to making the simple plays, the right plays and layups down the stretch.”
Ignacio will take on Kirtland Central (0-2) at 7 p.m. Dec. 13.