The Durango High School boys basketball team will have a long 48-hour wait to find out its fate after the Demons were unable to make key plays down the stretch in Friday night’s 44-40 loss to Grand Junction.
Heading into Friday’s tilt with the No. 44 rating percentage index, which determines the 48-team field for the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 4A bracket, the Demons knew that one win would likely secure them a seed in the playoffs.
However, the Demon offense came up empty down the stretch, as Grand Junction outscored DHS 16-6, including a 10-0 run that closed out the game. Late in the fourth quarter, the Demons came up empty three possessions in a row after three timeouts were called by head coach Alan Batiste.
“Our biggest thing was, we were two minutes out of where we wanted to spread the floor,” Batiste said. “The goal was to get paint touches, that was our thing; we came out of three timeouts and didn’t execute what we tried to get. I mean, all three plays that we designed were paint touches. Only one of them was executed well, and it was ruled a charge, and the basket didn’t count. Not being able to execute down the stretch cost us, for sure.”
The Demons (9-13, 1-7 5A/4A Southwestern League) were up six with five minutes remaining when Blaine Butler hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 40. He finished with 17 points to lead the Tigers and hit five from beyond the arc.
“We’re up six with five minutes left, that’s when we need our defense to step up,” Batiste said. “Credit to Junction for drawing up two good plays, but I really do think that’s when we needed to put it away and we didn’t.”
Durango had plenty of chances to pull level after it gave up the lead on a Ky Oday layup with 2:08 remaining, but the Demons couldn’t find the basket. They were held scoreless for the final 5:25. Senior Cullen Robinette did all he could, alongside post man Al Hurworth, but the Tigers (3-20, 2-6 SWL) came up with the necessary stops. Hurworth had a basket that was waived off because of a charging violation, and it took much of the air out of the Demons’ sails.
“For me, this is a ‘what if’ game,” Hurworth said. “We had some really good chances and we just went away from what was working well. I honestly wish we attacked the paint more. We were getting to the line or scoring. Our 3s weren’t falling, but we kept shooting. It was frustrating because everything was clicking early on in the first half.”
“It’s all about high-percentage shots, and we were hitting them,” added Martin Cuntz. “It’s just a matter of playing smart down the stretch, and we didn’t do that.”
Grand Junction head coach credited his seniors for finding a way to win. “They really wanted to send our four seniors out on a positive note,” said Grand Junction head coach Isaac Madison. “They came out inspired in the second half, and down the stretch, our seniors took over. We talked about wanting to finish on a high note, and we got those stops in the end and made some big free throws to seal it.”
Durango was led by Hurworth’s 13 points, while Robinette had 11. Robinette had two chances to give the Demons the lead late, but both of his 3-point attempts were off the mark. The Tigers also got contributions from Beau Thornton, who had nine points, while Oday had six.
For Batiste, now begins the arduous process of seeing how other bubble teams fare. Regardless of Sunday’s results, he said the seniors deserved to be proud of their careers.
“Our seniors played so hard tonight,” Batiste said. “Really, everybody did. But it was tough, really tough. This is a special group who took a four-win team and helped us get right on the bubble for the playoffs. I can’t say enough about these guys and their fight. I told them that we plan on practicing on Monday, and I really hope we get the chance to do so.”
Durango will find out its fate when the 4A brackets are released on Sunday.