The Durango High School boys basketball team was one half away from advancing to the Sweet 16 after the Demons got off to a hot start against No. 15 Pueblo Central on Saturday afternoon in the second round of the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Class 4A state tournament.
But the Wildcats used a 32-9 run in the second half to end No. 47 Durango’s upset bid with a 51-32 loss.
Durango (10-14) got off to a fast start behind the guard play of Clay Seibel and Anthony Flint. They hit early 3-pointers that helped DHS get out to a 15-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
DHS would extend the lead to as much as eight in the second when the duo struck again with back-to-back 3s to make it 21-13 and force Pueblo Central to call a timeout with 3:27 remaining in the half. The Wildcats answered and went on a run to close the gap, but Durango still held a 23-19 lead heading into the locker room.
“I told the boys at halftime to just keep working the inside-out game because we definitely had them on their heels a bit in that first half,” said DHS head coach Alan Batiste. “Everybody got involved, and I thought that if we kept being patient, we’d be able to still score and step up our game on defense.”
That was not the case.
Pueblo Central (15-9) answered the bell. After Durango sophomore Jordan Woolverton scored the opening basket of the half for DHS in the third quarter, the Demons were held scoreless for the remainder of the frame. Pueblo Central took advantage.
“Our Achilles all season: pressure defense. They played back on us on offense, and, basically, they came out thinking they were going to blow us out,” Batiste said. “But when we took a lead at the half, I think we sent a message to them. They basically played a laid back defense, but we were executing just fine until they turned up the pressure a little bit, and we couldn’t get the same looks we had in the first half.”
Pueblo Central went on a 10-0 run to take a lead for good. Durango’s drought would be held for 12 minutes of game clock and it would not score until Flint hit a 3-pointer with 3:09 left. During that time, Pueblo Central outscored the Demons 23-0.
“They put a full-court press on us and were getting deflections in our passing lanes when we had it on their end of the floor,” Batiste said. “They disrupted our rhythm enough so that we couldn’t recover. We couldn’t even get into a set, they made us that uncomfortable. We had 20 turnovers on the day, and from Nos. 10-17, they scored off of all seven turnovers, and a lot of them were in transition, which we really limited them to in that first half. It really was just two completely different halves.”
Pueblo Central was led by the Martin brothers, Brandon and Nico, who combined for 27 points, as Nico had 16 and Brandon had 11. Stephen Hemphill had nine, all of which came in the fourth quarter to help pull away.
Durango was led by Flint’s 10, Seibel had eight and Al Hurworth ended his career as a Demon with six.
Batiste said after the game that he was proud of the group for what they were able to accomplish with the odds stacked against them.
“A week ago, everybody thought our season was over after the loss to Grand Junction,” Batiste said. “But when we got in the playoffs, it really breathed new life into these guys. We came together more than ever. Our senior leadership stepped up, and I asked this team, ‘What are you leaving for us?’ They left a culture for next year and the years to come. Nobody thought we’d get in, and nobody thought we’d be a half away from the Sweet 16.
“Think about it, this program with a lot of these players was in a dark place last year, and we had four wins. This year’s team stepped up with a renewed sense of character, personality and everything that doesn’t have to do with basketball and came through. We got to 10 wins, squeaked into the playoffs and were a half away from taking on the No. 2 team in state because of them coming together.”