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Pirate boys enter 2012 atop IML standings

With No. 4 rankings in both Colorado Preps and Denver Post Preps rankings in Class 3A, the Pirate basketball team returns tonight at 7 p.m. in the Pagosa Springs High School gym for a match against the 6-5 4A Durango Demons.

Stepping up a class in their match against Durango, tonight’s game should be the first real test the Pirates have faced so far this season and a worthy workout to prepare for league opponents (those matchups begin next week).

Last January, the Pirates beat the Demons 52-39 in Durango during the first game of 2011 following the winter break. However, the Pirates will be facing a much stronger and experienced team this year, fielding four seniors and three juniors, with five players returning from last year’s varsity squad. Furthermore, when the Demons hosted the Pirates last year, Durango was holding a dismal 3-6 record at that time; this year’s 6-5 record shows a team that has improved from last year (when the team only picked up one more victory for the season following their loss to the Pirates).

In tonight’s match, expect a strong start by the Demons (they average 15.8 points in the first quarter), but then appear to stumble through the following three quarters with just a 11.26 per-quarter scoring average.

On Saturday, the Pirates travel to Salida to give the 1-5 Spartans a shot at revenge for the 84-40 drubbing they received Dec. 17 in Pagosa Springs.

On Friday, Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m., the Pirates travel to Centauri to face their first league opponent of the season, the 6-2 Falcons. The Pagosa boys then return home the following night to host the Bayfield Wolverines in the season’s second conference outing.

With the exception of matches against the Sanford Indians and Ignacio Bobcats, the Pirates will play league opponents through the Feb. 18 end of the regular season.

SUN staff has provided a season preview for Pirates fans, looking at league, non-league and potential post-season opponents. Home (H) and Away (A) games will be provided with game dates and times.

Intermountain League

With their 5-0 record, the Pirates currently lead the IML, followed by the Falcons, the 5-2 Alamosa Mean Moose and the 4-2 Monte Vista Pirates, indicating a conference trophy that is up for grabs this season.

In the basement, the 3-4 Wolverines have been hampered by the loss of key players and don’t appear to be a serious contender for this year’s IML crown.

So far this season, the Pirates have scored 327 points, averaging 65.4 points per game (leading Colorado Preps to say that the Pirates have, “been very dominant thus far and explosive offensively.“). Pagosa has been no less impressive on defense, allowing an average of 28 points per game — a total of just 140 points all season.

While other teams in the league have scored more total points this season — mostly due to more games played (Alamosa with 415 points in seven games, Bayfield with 419 points in eight games) — the Pirates lead all league opponents in head-to-head averages per quarter.

Facing the IML’s second-ranked team next Friday in Centauri, the Pirates could push the Falcons down in the standings. Although Centauri is fielding four seniors and five juniors, only three returning varsity players made this year’s starting squad.

The Falcons have played a variety of teams across divisions (1A, 2A and 4A), but the team has been largely inconsistent this season, losing to 1A and 4A teams but just getting by 2A and 3A teams.

Furthermore, while Centauri has averaged 49 points per game on offense, it has allowed 38.25 points on average. In a quarter-to-quarter match up scoring averages against the Pirates, Pagosa outscores the Falcons in every quarter and Centauri falls hard in the third quarter (Pagosa’s strongest), down 21-10 in that period’s average.

The Pirates play a second game (H) against the Falcons Friday, Feb. 4 at 7 p.m.

Alamosa, the IML’s third-ranked team, will most likely be Pagosa’s toughest competition for the conference title, having scored an average of 59.28 points per game (second highest IML average). The two losses the Mean Moose have had this season were against the Manitou Mustangs (fifth-ranked in state 3A) and the 4A Canon City Tigers.

A closer look at Alamosa’s scoring stats shows the team’s totals slightly inflated, with 190 points scored against three 2A teams. Furthermore, the Mean Moose give up an average 42.28 points per game (the second worst record in the IML), and six out of seven of Alamosa’s games so far have seen opponents score 40 or more points.

While the teams appear evenly matched across three quarters (with Alamosa having a slight edge in the second) in average scoring, the Pirates outpace the Mean Moose by an average of 21-14.3 points during Pagosa’s strong third period.

Another indication of what a Pirate/Mean Moose matchup might look like can be seen in how the two teams performed against the Buena Vista Demons: Alamosa beat the Demons 51-41 at home on Dec. 17, while the Pirates manhandled Buena Vista 59-30 on the Demon’s home court.

With seven returning varsity players this year, the Mean Moose certainly have experience as they enter into conference competition. Whether or not the Mean Moose bench is as deep as Pagosa’s will be determined when the teams meet Friday, Jan. 20 (H) at 7 p.m. and Friday, Feb. 3 (A) at 5:30 p.m.

A hapless 1-17 team last year, the Monte Vista Pirates are looking much better this year, but not nearly good enough to shine in this year’s struggle for IML dominance.

Pagosa plays Monte Saturday, Jan. 21, at 5:30 p.m. (A), meeting again Friday, Feb. 10 (H) at 7 p.m.

At 4-2 coming into January, Monte has played five out of six of their games this season against 2A teams. Both losses this season have come against 2A Sargent (3-3) — not exactly a powerhouse team (only ranking fifth in their conference).

Scoring an average 49.8 points per game, Monte has allowed 36.16 points per game.

As far as average points scored, Monte performs best in the final quarter, Pagosa’s average scoring is far better for all four quarters.

Bayfield’s 3-4 record should actually be at 2-5, given a Dec. 15 76-70 loss to the Piedra Vista Panthers. However, that game was called a forfeit after a Panther was ruled ineligible due to falsified transfer information, giving the Wolverines an unearned win.

Hampered by injuries in December, and the loss of a key player all season (Seth Posey shattered his leg during the 2A football championship), the Wolverines should look stronger the next two months, but not formidable.

Having scored an average of 59.86 during their last seven games (almost on par with Alamosa), the team has also allowed an average of 52.29 points per game — by far the worst defense in the league and a full 10 points more than second-worst Alamosa.

Given those stats and the fact that the Wolverines lost 64-46 to Cortez on Dec. 13 (a team the Pirates beat 51-31 Dec. 10), it’s unlikely that the Saturday, Jan. 14, (H) at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Jan. 28, (A) at 5 p.m. games will result in anything but wins for the Pirates.

Non-conference games

While the Pirates don’t appear to have much competition in conference play this season, their toughest games could be non-league games — from two 2A teams.

Ranked eighth by Colorado Preps, ninth by Denver Post Preps in state 2A basketball, the Sanford Indians play the Pirates Tuesday, Jan. 24, (H) at 7 p.m. and then again at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, (A) for Pagosa’s season closer.

Last year, the Pirates destroyed the Indians 70-26 in Sanford. However, like Pagosa, Sanford has an experienced squad and looks to be fielding a tougher team this year. However, a 58-51 defeat by the Mean Moose on Dec. 16 might suggest possible outcomes of the Indian’s challenges to the Pirates.

The Pirates meet their 2A nemesis, the Ignacio Bobcats, a team Pagosa has not beaten since 2007 (the Pirates lost 44-39 last year in Ignacio), at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 7, (H).

Ranked fourth by Colorado Preps for state 2A, the 4-1 Bobcats have reached the Final Four the last three years and little suggests they won’t make it this year. With Ignacio fielding four seniors and a junior this year, the Pirates will need to keep an eye on Shane Richmond, the Bobcat’s 6-3 power forward who has averaged 27 points a game this season, scoring at least 32 in three games.

If the Pirates can contain Richmond, they will eliminate a massive factor in the Bobcat’s game since he has averaged 50 percent of the 54.4 points per game the team is scoring this season. More than that, Ignacio has allowed 42 points per game on average — well above the Pirates 28 points allowed — and will need to shore up the defense if they intend to stop Pagosa, on a roll with over 65 points per game so far this season. And while the Bobcats have exhibited a strong start the past five games, they have not had an impressive finish, averaging 18.8 points in the first half compared with 15.6 in the second. Again, the Pirates overpower 21-14 in the third quarter, suggesting that 2012 will be the year that Pagosa ends its four-year losing streak against Ignacio.

Post-season opponents

Both polls are consistent for the top-five and although it’s early in the season (and barring unforeseen circumstances), there’s little reason to believe that those teams won’t be in Fort Collins in March.

Odds-on favorites for their fifth consecutive state 3A title, the 6-1 Faith Christian Eagles sit at the top of the rankings, followed by the 5-0 Valley Vikings and 4-0 Colorado Springs Christian Lions. At 7-0, the Manitou Springs Mustangs are at the No. 5 spot.

During last year’s Final Four, the Eagles beat the Pirates 48-30, placing Pagosa in the consolation round. The next day, the Pirates edged out the third-ranked Vikings 53-50 to take third-place.

As always with sports, fortunes may change and several key games this week or two are worth watching to see if the top five has some adjustments. The Vikings face the 3-2 Sun Devils at Kent Denver on Saturday while the Lions host the talented 4-2 Pinnacle Timberwolves tonight, then move on to Manitou Springs next week to challenge the Mustangs.

In both poll’s top 10, the 4-2 Holy Family Tigers could find themselves moving up in the rankings soon. Despite a 15-point loss to the Mustangs and a slim four-point loss to the Lions last month, the Tigers have also shown impressive wins over the Platte Valley Broncos and the eighth-ranked Eaton Reds (4-2).

Despite some tough competition in state 3A basketball, there is nothing to suggest that the Pirates can’t bring home a state championship trophy for the 2011-2012 season. Sorenson’s bench is showing depth that is the envy of teams around the state while an explosive offense, combined with a stingy defense, could lead the Pirates to unseat the Eagles from their state 3A perch — the first Pagosa Springs state trophy in 52 years.

Of course, the regular season calls and there are plenty of IML teams who would love to take the league title for their own.

January is upon us. February awaits. But March is where the Pirates want to be.

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