Having just seen junior Joe Garcia splash down three right-wing 3-pointers in fewer than five tries beginning the fourth quarter of a 72-32 win Jan. 7 at Dove Creek, Ignacio High School boys basketball head coach Chris Valdez wasn’t surprised as much as his reserve guard might have been.
“We ran one of our plays, and my coach told me to look for the 3-pointer because it would be there,” Garcia explained after the road rout. “I did what he said, and it worked.”
It’s those kind of plays Valdez has come to expect from bench players during his team’s 6-1 start.
“Joe’s not afraid to come in, and he’ll come in cold, but he’s still going to be effective,” Valdez had stated, almost prophetically, prior to the holiday break. “Not in basketball shape yet, but you wait until January; that kid’s going to be as good as anyone on the team, and he could start for us. That’s how good he’s going to be.”
January’s in full swing, and though Garcia hasn’t yet cracked IHS’ starting five, it doesn’t seem to matter.
And though the Bobcat boys may have lost their first game of the 2019-20 slate last Saturday against a quality Class 3A squad at Montezuma-Cortez, the Ignacio Bobcat bench did not.
“They stepped up when the starters, we were falling apart,” said junior point guard Brady McCaw following the 70-66 setback in the Southwest Classic’s championship. “With me and Ocean (Hunter) fouling out, they came out and played hard, did their thing, their part. I’ve got to give props to the bench players.”
With senior forward Bird Red (5.0 ppg) booking seven points before he also fouled out, and junior guard Joe Garcia netting six, Ignacio’s reserves – sometimes numbering as few as three – continued a season-long streak of outscoring their foes’ backups by bettering the hosting Panthers 16-7 in points off the bench.
That effort came less than a day after IHS’ second-stringers bettered 3A Bayfield’s 12-7 and just four after dominating improved 1A Dove Creek’s reinforcements by an impressive 25-11 margin.
“Our bench play’s coming around,” grinned Valdez. “Slows us down a little bit, but we get more active.”
And despite any admitted flaws, the Bobcat regulars appreciate the fact someone’s got their backs.
“Bird’s been doing a great job getting us rebounds and doing what he canm” said IHS starting forward Bryce Finn. “He’s not going in there looking to score every time, but go in there and do all the little things we need. And Dylan (Labarthe), anytime you have him in there, he’s a threat because he’s just running the floor so fast. We have transition trailers all the time because of Dylan’s speed, which helps us out a lot.”
Labarthe has averaged 4.7 points per game off the bench. The junior forward is proudly recovering from a recent procedure removing a painful intestinal blockage.
Through about one-third of the regular-season schedule, the Bobcat bench – anchored by the Garcia-Red-Labarthe trio – has outscored its seven opponents by as much as a 103-51 count, while a former reserve, sophomore Gabe Tucson, has proven an able starter with junior backcourt regular Triston Thompson out.
In the aforementioned three most recent contests, Tucson totaled 29 points and drained six 3-pointers (four fell in a crucial 14-point effort against M-CHS) while Garcia totaled five 3s and 20 points.
Punctuating a 67-48 defeat of BHS with a rainbow 3, Red, who began the season healing from a groin injury, totaled 19, while Labarthe managed 14 – including 11 versus Dove Creek – to complement Garcia’s 12.
With 2A/1A San Juan Basin League nemesis Dolores in town Friday night for a long-awaited home opener, Class 2A’s fifth-ranked Bobcats’ relief corps should again have ample opportunity to excel and extend a trend dating back to a season-opening win over non-league 2A Colorado Springs School at the Limon Invitational.
“A lot of good things happened,” Valdez had said, following IHS’ Day 2 defeat of then No. 3 Limon.
“Triston had a stomach pain, something was bothering him, so he hit those first shots, and then he had to come out. Didn’t go back in until almost the fourth quarter; he missed over half the game. And Brady got into foul trouble, and I didn’t bring him back in until almost halftime; he played, maybe, two-and-a-half quarters?
“Those are two key players, but look at the rest of the team. Look at what everybody else did to come in, help, play physical and get rebounds (against) a team with three 6-5 guys. I thought our kids worked harder than they’ve ever worked; they followed directions.”
For that Bobcat bench, it’s about doing what any great bench desires, and that’s to bring energy to the floor when their name is called to check in.
Now, Ignacio is ready to forget the loss at Cortez and get back to business in league.
“We just have to start that fire back up and stuff,” said Labarthe. “Talk a little bit, get our heads straight again and come back together.”
“And when we get Triston back,” Valdez added, “I think that’s going to help us flow into everything we want to do.”