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Pirate boys finish sixth at Fort Collins

Facing a tough field of competitors in the “Great Eight” of state 3A championship playoffs, the Pirates lost their first playoff game on Thursday, won the first round of the consolation playoffs and, in the last seconds of their final game, fell by a single bucket, taking sixth place in the overall tournament.

After losing 49-64 to the Kent Denver Sun Devils on Thursday (who lost the next night, 50-49, to the Faith Christian Eagles, the team that took a third straight 3A title against the previously unbeaten Aspen Skiers, 57-47), the Pirates defeated the Eaton Reds 39-38 during Friday’s first consolation round. Facing the Manitou Springs Mustangs in the consolation finals, the Pirates lost 56-54 in the final seconds.

Facing Kent Denver, the Pirates found themselves trailing in all but one quarter of the game, bedeviled on offense and bested on defense. Despite getting out ahead 6-2 early in the first, a Zach Lucero steal passed to Taylor Shaffer for an assist to Austin Jones for the bucket, the Sun Devils remained resolute and, holding the Pirates outside the perimeter, ended the quarter with an 15-11 lead.

Capitalizing on Pagosa turnovers and keeping the Pirates to a minimum under the basket, the Sun Devils managed to again outscore Pagosa in the second, 18-16, sending the Pirates down 33-27 at the half. While Kent Denver shot 52 percent from the floor, Pagosa shot 46 percent — enough to explain why offense mattered more than defense.

After the game, coach Jim Shaffer said, “We’d make a big run and they’d come up with a big three.”

Indeed, well into the third quarter it was evident that Kent Denver had the upper hand, holding Pagosa scoreless almost until midway through the period. Doing an excellent job of containing key Pirate players, the Sun Devils were able to execute in the slots, outscoring Pagosa 17-8 in the period. Only managing to match Kent Denver bucket for bucket in the fourth, 14-14, the Pirates fell 464-49 to the Sun Devils, earning themselves a place in the consolation round.

Speaking to the rough, physical game Kent Denver played (as well as the fast-and-loose officiating on the Front Range), Shaffer said, “They’re in a league where, night after night out, they have to compete. As it is, with the strength of our league, with a couple of exceptions, we just weren’t pushed.

“We lost against a quality team,” he added, “and there’s no shame in that. I just wish we’d played our best game of the season.”

Taylor Shaffer led the team with 11 points and four assists, followed by Jordan Caller with 10 points. Both Zach Lucero and Austin Jones had eight points, followed by Tyson Ross with seven points (leading the team with six rebounds and three steals).

Fighting a tough defensive battle that came down to a final basket, the Pirates managed to just squeak by the Eaton Reds to qualify for the fifth-place game. Forcing numerous Eaton turnovers, it appeared Pagosa had the edge. Led by the hot hand of Jordan Caler in the first quarter, Pagosa was handed a mean slap as Caler was taken out in the final seconds with a broken nose. Up 10-8 at the end of the period, it was questionable how the Pirates would fare with the loss of a key starter.

Yet, true to the Pirates’ tough reputation, Caler returned early in the second, scoring the first bucket. Keeping it razor close, Eaton tied the game midway on two-for-two foul shots. However, a foul shot by Ross retained Pagosa’s edge as the Pirates outscored the Reds 8-7 in the quarter, leaving the half with a slender 18-15 lead.

Regarding the narrow lead, the coach said, “We did not do a good job of rebounding, we gave them a lot of second chances.”

Coming into the next period with a three-pointer, Eaton announced they would not go down easy. With the Pirates unable to connect outside the arc, the Reds managed to capitalize on a couple of long shots, outscoring the Pirates 13-10 in the third and tying the score going into the final quarter.

Playing back and forth throughout the fourth, the Pirates held the edge from the free-throw line. With Shaffer hitting one of two with less than 10 seconds left to gain a single point lead, Eaton fouled on a Ross offensive rebound. Unable to recover or execute, the Reds went down by one and the Pirates moved onto the consolation round finals with a 39-38 victory.

“I’m just proud of our kids for the character they showed,” coach Shaffer said after the game.

“It looked more like mud wrestling than basketball,” the coach added. “It wasn’t pretty to watch but our kids hung in there.”

Ross led the team with 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and five steals. Caler followed in scoring with 10 points (despite his injury) and Jones finished with nine points.

Meeting the Manitou Mustangs in the fifth-place game, the Pirates delivered too little, too late. Unable to contain the hot hand of Manitou’s Ronnie Bohnert (scoring three triples and a deuce — as many points as the Pirates scored in the quarter), Pagosa found themselves down 21-14 at the end of the period and scrambling to gain back ground throughout the game.

Fortunately for the Pirates, Kain Lucero was on fire from the perimeter, hitting two three-pointers in the second (and six for the game). With Pagosa outscoring the Mustangs 13-11 in the second, the Pirates shaved their deficit down to 32-27 at the half.

Impressed by Lucero’s shooting, coach Shaffer said, “There’s not too many freshman in the state who hit six threes and score 20 points in the championships.”

Hitting three more trips, Lucero helped the Pirates move the score within a one-point deficit, as a Shaffer triple and two free throws by Ross gave Pagosa 14 points to 10 by Manitou for the third, making it a 42-41 game, Manitou. With the Mustangs coming out strong in the fourth, the Pirates rallied behind buckets answering every Manitou point. With a bucket by Caler with just 15 seconds left and a turnover by the Mustangs, it looked as though Pagosa had the game. Unfortunately, a Pagosa turnover, with less than 10 seconds left — and no foul called on an obvious bump — the Mustangs managed to make good with a basket by Jesse Megyeri and the Pirates had to settle with a sixth-place take in the tournament, falling 56-54 in a season-ending heartbreaker.

“We didn’t play very well in the first quarter but we came back strong in the second half,” Shaffer said.

Kain Lucero led with 20 points, followed by Taylor Shaffer who had 14 points and led with four rebounds. Ross finished with eight points.

Regarding his team’s performance against a field of opponents drawn largely from the Front Range, coach Shaffer said, “In all three games we got beat on the boards. It’s just a different style of play and a different level of play.”

However, looking ahead, Shaffer is pleased his returning players have championship experience and will be acquainted with the tougher level of play in Ft. Collins. Nonetheless, Shaffer said, “It’s going to be really tough to say good-bye to those three seniors.”

With a young team and talent coming up, Shaffer has great prospects for next season — and seasons to come — especially since many of those players not only got a chance to see how the game is played in Fort Collins but actually got substantial floor time. Unlike many teams throughout the state, Shaffer’s charges will be seasoned and accustomed to playing as a team, not just taking the floor when the score is unbalanced in the final quarter.

Given those prospects, Pirate’s fans should expect another successful season next year.

jim@pagosasun.com