Members of the Durango High School boys basketball team might come into practice on Monday afternoon whistling the theme from the 1963 hit movie “The Great Escape.”
The Demons escaped an early end to their season as they improbably nabbed the second-to-last playoff spot when the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 4A state playoff bracket was announced on Sunday.
Durango (9-13, 1-7 5A/4A Southwestern League) made the playoffs for the first time since the 2017 season after they were given the No. 47 seed out of the 48-team field and will travel to No. 18 Skyline in Longmont on Wednesday for its first-round clash.
The fact that the Demons are still practicing at all is something of a miracle, considering the roller-coaster weekend they had. With a chance to control their playoff fate Friday night, the Demons lost 44-40 to a then two-win Grand Junction team and seemed all but certain their spot in the postseason vanished. They dropped from No. 44 to No. 50 late Friday night in the Ratings Percentage Index, which determines the playoff seeding based off a team’s strength of schedule, its winning percentage, opponent’s winning percentage and its opponents’ opponent’s winning percentage. The margin in which the Demons got in was by a fraction of a percent.
Head coach Alan Batiste was seeing how other bubble teams fared the remainder of the weekend, and was still unsure of where Sunday’s final poll would put DHS.
“Just seeing how it all played out was just unbelievable,” Batiste said. “Friday night when I saw we were at 50, I thought there was no chance of us getting in. We just kept creeping up throughout the weekend based off of the other results, and by the time the final one rolled in this morning, I was just over the moon. The boys, particularly the seniors, have worked hard to get us to this point, and it doesn’t matter how we got in, as long as we did so.”
The Demons have lost five consecutive games and nine of its last 11, plus the one Southwestern League win, and it makes the feat that much more remarkable – and puzzling, as well. However, Durango had a strong start to the first half of the season, as they finished second at the Shiprock Tournament in which they played well against strong Newcomb and Navajo Prep teams, and won the Mitchell Tournament in Colorado Springs, where they beat Front Range teams in Englewood, Mitchell and Denver North – the first team out when the bracket was released.
“That Denver North game put us over the edge when you look at it, and we beat them by 20,” Batiste said. “It was a crazy weekend, but I’m just glad we get to play still. Skyline is a very talented team, but they’re beatable. That’s the thing about the state tournament, everyone is now 0-0 and it doesn’t matter what you did in the first two parts of the season, non-conference, and league, everyone is the same.”
Durango has weapons at its disposal, as senior captain Al Hurworth averages 11 points and eight rebounds per game, while the other senior captain, Cullen Robinette averages 10, and Martin Cuntz is at seven per game. Freshman sharpshooter Anthony Flint has been solid from beyond the arc this season as well.
Skyline (15-8, 12-4 5A/4A Tri Valley League) is led by a pair of juniors in guard Gage Robertson, who averages 16 points per game, while power forward Austin Robison is a bruiser down low and scores 14.4 points per game, and averages 8.6 rebounds per game. The Falcons aren’t afraid to shoot from beyond the arc, either, as sophomore Adrian Complain has attempted 96 3-pointers, while Robertson has 87 and the team has attempted 370 on the season.
“With the schedule we’ve played, it’s nothing we haven’t already seen this season,” Batiste said. “A lot of their games are right in our range, which is at least a 45-point performance. They’re solid at every spot on the floor, but so are we when we are on.”
Batiste understands how precious a playoff opportunity is, and he said he is ready to see his team make the most of it.
“I told the boys after Friday’s game that if we get in, we have to cherish the moment,” Batiste said. “We’ve gotta be able to listen and focus up, because every possession is crucial, and really, another game isn’t guaranteed.”
Durango begins its playoff journey against the Falcons at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Skyline High School.