A little more than a century ago, poet Robert Frost composed “The Road Not Taken,” a work ending with:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
That pretty well describes the path Ignacio will collectively tread in the upcoming 2A District 3 boys basketball tournament – a road most San Juan Basin League teams, either 2A or 1A, likely wouldn’t choose, but a route which, as the man penned, could make all the difference in establishing the Bobcats as a regional-phase contender.
At 8:30 p.m. Friday inside the Durango High School gymnasium on the neutral floor, IHS will square off – wicked wintry weather permitting – against Dolores and one-man-army Tristen Swagerty. And should the second-seed ’Cats prevail, a third battle with top-seed Mancos and twin towers Caden and Connor Showalter in the next afternoon’s 2:30 p.m. first-place game could commence.
“We’re just as good, if not better than they are. And we’ve got to prove it by keeping working hard and just attacking them,” said IHS head coach Chris Valdez, riding high after his team’s epic 59-54 win over Mancos on Feb. 12. “We’ve got to attack them; we can’t play ring-around-a-rosy if we want to win.”
Guess it’s fitting that a variation of another Frost line (from “A Servant to Servants”) has been a longtime painted prominence above the doors inside IHS Gymnasium, leading to the locker rooms: “The best way out of it is through it.”
Denied by recent snows the chance to back their victory over the Bluejays at non-league 1A Blanca Sierra Grande this past Friday, the Bobcats have had extra time to take that thought to heart, as their best preparations will have been made in-house during the 10 days since.
“I’m excited to play them,” said junior forward Ocean Hunter. “It’s going to be a new challenge.”
“We just need to finish our plays,” sophomore guard Triston Thompson said. “If we run our plays good, we’ll for sure win the championship.”
Ignacio will face the third-seeded Bears standing 10-8 overall, compared to Dolores’ 10-9 achieved by winning at Telluride and at home versus Ridgway to close out regular-season play.
Set to take on fourth-seed Telluride, survivors by a 56-54 margin of Tuesday’s play-in versus fifth-seed Ridgway, in the first semifinal at 5:30 p.m., Mancos (13-6) clinched a split of the SJBL’s 2A title by defeating the Miners (12-8) this past Friday, giving the Jays a 6-2 mark, matching the Bobcats’, but earning the top seed in District 3 via a plus-6 point differential against Ignacio.
Indicating its own eagerness for a possible third tilt with IHS, Mancos wrapped up its regular-season schedule stopping 1A Ouray 55-44, giving the Jays a 10-2 record against all SJBL teams compared to Ignacio’s 9-2 and Dolores’ 6-6.
Guaranteed a third go-round with Dolores, the ’Cats will hope to have refined their offense to put less importance on the long ball, despite it being a time-tested IHS hallmark and what ultimately saved the day in the aforementioned barn-burner.
“We’re still settling for the outside a little too much,” said Valdez. “I think if we get Bryce (Finn) inside, playing that middle, we can probably get ’em in a little more foul trouble. So, we’ll work on getting it inside, maybe to Bryce ... finish under the basket a little better next time.
“We weren’t attacking the gaps, so (Mancos) could just stay in there and it was one-shot-we’re-done, because they were getting every rebound. But once we started attacking ... the gaps were open enough to get to the basket. We threw some bad passes there and took a couple dumb shots, but for the most part, they attacked, were able to kick it out and get wide-open shots with the good movement offensively.”
Valdez said part of the IHS problem is trying to slow it down and run the offense when less dynamic players are on the floor. So, the team has to take advantage in transition when possible.
“You’ve got to keep your head,” said Finn, who drained five 3-pointers in totaling a game-best 18 points versus Mancos. “This game’s not over until the final buzzer rings; we’ve got to keep playing until the game’s over.”
“It’s really satisfying,” Hunter said of having earned part of the regular-season title and now a high seed in districts. “A lot of people doubted us, saying that we wouldn’t make it this far, but here we are.”
And “here” is where the ’Cats have held unyielding sway; IHS has won an incredible 11 consecutive district crowns, including last season via a 45-30 defeat of – you guessed it – Mancos.
“I’m not afraid of anybody,” said Valdez.
As it stood mid-Thursday, the District 3 tournament was to shake out Saturday with the girls third-place game at 10 a.m., the boys third-place game at 11:30 a.m., the girls championship at 1 p.m. and the boys title game at 2:30 p.m., all at Durango High.