The Pirates begin the final two-thirds of the season (after a long Christmas break) on Jan. 6 looking to return to Fort Collins for the state championship.
Last March, the Pirates took sixth place in the “Great Eight” state championship 3A tournament, losing 54-56 to the Manitou Springs Mustangs in the final seconds of the consolation round finals. Previously in the tournament, the Pirates lost 49-64 to the Kent Denver Sun Devils during the first round, but then beat the Eaton Reds 39-38 during the first round of consolation round matches.
Coming into January with a perfect record (5-0), the Pirates are focused on returning to Fort Collins in March. Currently ranked eighth in state 3A boys basketball on both the Denver Post Preps and VarVee rankings, the Pirates see their hopes for a return to state as better than fifty-fifty.
“That’s their goal,” said coach Randy Sorenson, “and they’re really working hard on it.”
With most of the Pirates’ starters having logged court time during last year’s championship tournament, those players are aware that the intensity increases when facing some physical, athletic front range teams.
“Those kids know that the games aren’t about the teams out here. They understand that it’s about winning games at state.”
However, before they can get to state, the Pirates will be facing some tough teams on the road to Fort Collins. Indeed, their first match coming off of break will be an away game against the 4A Durango Demons.
The Pirates played the Demons during a Thanksgiving break scrimmage, faring well against a team that held a distinct height advantage.
“We did really well against them,” Sorenson said. “I think we’re going to be facing a much improved team in January, even though they’ve been having some problems.”
The Demons have struggled this season (2-5) against some tough 4A Front Range teams but that should not take a victory for granted.
The Pirates return to the road on Jan. 8 to face the 3-1 Salida Spartans (a previously scheduled match on Dec. 18 was cancelled due to weather and has been rescheduled for Feb. 5).
Returning home on Jan. 11 to host the Ignacio Bobcats, a team the Pirates had difficulty against last year (the Bobcats lost in the final round of the state 2A championship game).
“They graduated some kids from last year, but they have some height and some good kids this season,” Sorenson said.
The Pirates are at home again on Jan. 14 for the first conference game of the season, hosting the 2-3 Centauri Falcons. Although the Pirates swept Centauri last season in conference play, Sorenson said, “They’re much improved this year, they’re pretty athletic.”
Although beating the Woodland Park Panthers 48-35 on Dec. 10 during the Woodland Park Invitational, Centauri faced a team that has, frankly, shown little to no prowess on the court this season, preforming dismally during the Buena Vista tournament in early December.
The Pirates follow that match with two more road games, arriving in Bayfield on Jan. 15 to challenge the 5-2 Wolverines for Pagosa’s second league game of the season.
“They’re definitely better than they were last year,” Sorenson said. “It will be a tough game on the road and they’ll be a tough game to beat.”
However, the Wolverines lost 41-35 to the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers on Dec. 4 during the Cortez Invitational (then beat the Panthers 53-48 the next week in Bayfield). The Pirates never faced the Panthers during December’s Wolf Creek Classic in Pagosa Springs as the Panther’s fell 55-36 against the Gunnison Cowboys — a team the Pirates have defeated twice this season.
The Pirates travel to Alamosa Jan. 21 for their third conference game and the first time that the Mean Moose have played Pagosa Springs in league play (Alamosa moved from 4A to 3A this past season).
Having traded wins with Alamosa last season, Sorenson feels that the 5-2 Mean Moose will be the team to beat this year in league play.
“I’d say that, after us, they definitely have to be the favorites this year.”
On Jan. 22, the Pirates return home to host a hapless Monte Vista team that, at 2-4, has shown little indication that it has any aspirations for winning the conference. In fact, Monte Vista lost by 20 points to the 2A Sargent Farmers at home on Dec. 9 in a game that pretty much defined the team’s race to the bottom.
The Pirates return to the road Jan. 25 to meet the 2A Sanford Indians. Although Sorenson said that, “This is going to be a tough game on the road, we’re going to have to play really well to beat them,” the 3-3 Indians fell badly on Dec. 18 to the Buena Vista Demons, losing 54-36 to a team that the Pirates defeated on Dec. 4 to take that team’s tournament crown. At .500 for the season, the Indians have been outscored 295-244 this season.
The Pirates play their last 4A team this season when they host the 3-7 Farmington Scorpions. The Pirates have had little problem with the Scorpions during the past two seasons and Farmington has shown little fight this season, apparently adjusting (like the Pirates) to a new coach.
The Pirates finish up regular season play with four straight league games, the first two at home. Hosting the Wolverines on Jan. 29 and the Mean Moose on Feb. 4, the Pirates finish out the season on the road, traveling to Monte Vista on Feb. 11 and playing their final game in Centauri on Feb. 15.
During the break, Sorenson stated that his team is, “Going back to the basics, building a tougher defense and a more aggressive offense.”
Acknowledging that the Pirates have shown some difficulty maintaining consistency between quarters, Sorenson added that his team was looking at how it could bring the same level of intensity no matter what quarter they play.
It’s a strategy that will be required if the Pirates hope to return to Fort Collins in March, as well as repeat taking the Intermountain League title this year.
“Our league is a lot better this year, that’s for sure,” Sorenson said.
Fortunately, the Pirates look to be the best of the best in the IML at this point in the season.