TELLURIDE - With plenty of fresh powder on the nearby slopes and even more sunshine overhead Saturday afternoon, Jan. 19, it was understandable why Telluride's MinerDome wasn't filled to capacity.
Fans who otherwise would have attended THS' battle with longtime 2A/1A San Juan Basin League powerhouse Ignacio probably couldn't have helped feeling like Tellurid-iots after hearing about a battle hearkening back to the squads' first circuit clashes just over a decade ago.
"It really did," said exhausted IHS head coach Chris Valdez. "And the fact that we needed this win...otherwise we're five-and-eight. But now we're six-and-seven, and that's a big difference - we're one game away from .500, and that we can use as momentum."
"Win." "Momentum." Two things that, for much of the first half, appeared might elude the visiting Bobcats as the Miners began the game on a 5-0 run and led 10-3 late in the first quarter before IHS sophomore Triston Thompson converted a late breakaway. In fact, Ignacio's first lead, 15-14, didn't come about until sophomore Bryce Finn cleaned up a Thompson three-point miss with 3:36 left in the second quarter.
And had it not been for Finn's nine second-quarter points and 10 total during the first half, the 'Cats could have been in a serious hole and in need of even more heroics than those about to occur.
"They looked like they were tired and asleep," Valdez said. "Played last night - a tough game - and to come up here, have to sleep in a bed that's not yours, then try to get another win was something I didn't know if we could do. The kids looked tired, I was tired, and it's different, you know, when you do that."
Having defeated Ridgway, 57-46, at RHS the previous night, IHS went to work after intermission looking to erase a 27-21 deficit. But when freshman Gabe Tucson nailed a three with 4:46 left, re-tying the score at 29, the tempo changed drastically.
Telluride's Carlo Pine (10 points) answered with a trey of his own, only to see Finn (19 points; 16 at Ridgway) sink one from deep. Thompson soon re-tied the score at 34-34 with a two-pointer, and Tucson drained another big triple shortly after to keep things even at 37-37.
But if that didn't have spectators moving forward in their seats, the third quarter's conclusion certainly did.
Miner Ian Enkema somehow angled himself in mid-air against a defender and banked in an improbable left-handed layup. But after the Bobcats hustled the ball into the offensive end, it went to junior guard Keegan Schurman in the near-side corner right in front of Valdez.
THS fans smartly began a quickened countdown of the waning seconds, as Schurman's view of the scoreboard was obstructed. Not knowing he had about two more ticks with which to set up for a shot, Schurman put up an off-balance prayer while falling out of bounds...and swished it.
"When they hit the layup and Keegan comes down and hits the corner-three, we're only down by two and have momentum going into the fourth," said Valdez. "Then all of a sudden we get a four- or five-point lead because of that momentum he created."
"He's been looking for a big game offensively and still hasn't had it," continued Valdez. "But defensively he's been busting his tail; he decided that 'I'm going to bust my tail, if I can't score, then hopefully my scoring will come.' Which is the right attitude to have."
And it fully permeated the guests' roster during the final frame.
THS' Robert Cooney, who'd started the game with a trey and then a follow-up deuce, began the fourth with a putback, only to see Bobcat Dylan Labarthe respond with a hard basket inside, trimming Telluride's lead back down to 44-42. Up to the task, Cooney (13 points) struck back with a three-pointer, but after teammate Kaden Katz fouled out with 4:12 remaining, Schurman (7 points) sank two of three free throws to bring IHS back to 49-46.
Finn then coldly knocked down consecutive threes from the same corner as Schurman's hopeful hoist, finally putting the Bobcats ahead 52-49 with just 2:43 left. The Miners, however, would soon get baskets by Enkema and backcourt mate Charlie Miller, and trailed 54-53 before Thompson (16 points) buried two foul shots with 23.2 seconds left.
And in a town world-renowned for its film festival, there would be still even more drama, as Enkema (15 points) managed to get a decent look at a tying three-pointer from straight away and appeared to have drawn contact. But no whistle sounded, and Ignacio junior Ocean Hunter (5 points) forcibly grabbed the game's most vital rebound.
"Didn't score a lot of points, but his rebounding was the difference in the game," stated Valdez. "We talked in the huddle, 'We need to get one rebound,' and he went through that guy to get that rebound! He wanted it more than anybody and that's what you've got to have when.teaching these kids how to be winners."
Fouled, to the local rooters' horror, as he began dribbling out of danger, Hunter then made one of two charity tosses with 0:00.4 left, dashing the Miners' last hopes for a miracle make as the 'Cats had no intention of defending any desperation heave after Telluride inbounded.
"We slept through the first quarter," Valdez reiterated, "but we came around. We lost Brady [point guard McCaw, who scored 15 points at RHS, to an early right-side injury], but everybody stepped up and contributed."