Down three players for various reasons, the Durango High School girls basketball team was up against the top-ranked team in all of Class 3A girls basketball.
The Class 4A No. 14 Demons dug themselves a deep hole, too, as they trailed Centauri 39-22 at halftime. But, behind 27 points from sophomore forward Mason Rowland, the Demons got as close as 48-47 with 2 minutes, 30 seconds to play on Tuesday afternoon at Durango High School.
But it was the play of Centauri forward Courtney Hamilton that would be the difference in the game’s final minutes. Hamilton had two consecutive shots blocked by the Demons but grabbed her rebound each time before hitting a layup with 1:56 to play to make it 50-47 in favor of the visiting Falcons. Rowland would make two more free throws to again make it a one-point game with 1:30 to go, but anther Hamilton offensive rebound and putback layup with one minute to play would go down as the game’s final basket, as the Class 3A No. 1 Centauri Falcons (3-0) secured a 52-49 road win at DHS (2-2).
“This was a great learning experience for our girls to see the level and intensity we need to play at,” DHS head coach Tim Fitzpatrick said. “We had good shots right there in crunch time, we just didn’t knock them down. We make them, and we are ahead.”
Hamilton, a senior who had entered the game averaging 21.5 points per game, was limited to 15 points. Her two late layups in the fourth quarter were her only baskets of the second half and came after she showed extreme toughness to get rebounds.
“Our team needed the points. I had four fouls and I was trying to be careful,” Hamilton said. “Our team needed the points, and I was going to battle for it.”
Fitzpatrick said his team’s goal was to limit Hamilton’s scoring to get back in the game in the second half. The increased defensive focus was aided by the aggressive offense of freshman Carter Neiman, who scored five of her eight points in the fourth quarter.
“The tandem of Carter and Maddy McManus really did a good job on (Hamilton),” Fitzpatrick said. “She’s tough to deal with. Credit to those two for their defense. We played tough man-to-man defense like we know how to do.”
Centauri senior guard Brenna McDaniel finished with 17 points for the Falcons. She was held to four points in the second half.
Falcons head coach Troy Reynolds said his team decided to approach this week’s games as though they were the state playoffs. Durango was viewed as the quarterfinal game. A showdown with No. 7 Delta at 5 p.m. Friday in La Jara is the semifinals while a trip to Class 2A No. 1 Rye (2-0) on Saturday is viewed as the state championship.
“This is huge with a tough week ahead of us,” Reynolds said. “This is our statement week, a big buildup to get us momentum. Durango is a tough team, and it’s huge for us today to play someone of this caliber against a team that will go on and do great things in 4A, as well.”
For DHS, it was the fourth game in eight days to open the season. The Demons were still on tired legs after playing in an overtime loss Friday at Delta after which they arrived home at midnight only to load the bus again at 7 a.m. Saturday to travel to a win in Telluride.
DHS was without junior center Sydney Flores, senior guard Kyle Rowland and senior Kathryn Paul in Tuesday’s loss.
“It was a chance for us to see what we’re made of,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was tough not having those kids. We missed (Kyle Rowland’s) leadership, but I thought the kids really responded.”
The Demons will now have a week to rest up for the 5A/4A Southwestern League opener at Fruita Monument.
“We need some rest,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was good to play some tough teams before league.