After dropping their first conference match last Friday in Centauri — a narrow 52-50 loss to the Falcons — the Pirates were also dropped from top-10 rankings on Colorado Preps, despite a 60-50 league win the next night at home against the Bayfield Wolverines.
Today’s Class 3A basketball rankings will most likely show the Pirates dropping from their No. 5 spot. Until Sunday, Colorado Preps had the Pirates ranked sixth. Friday’s loss also knocked the Pirates from the top of the Intermountain League standings, with Centauri leading with a 2-0 record and the Alamosa Mean Moose a close second at 1-0 (both teams defeated the Monte Vista Pirates over the weekend).
Several factors determined Friday’s upset and Saturday’s less-than-spectacular win. Both nights showed the Pirates far less balanced than they have played all season, with one or two players putting up double digits in scoring last weekend as opposed to multiple players evening out scoring stats.
Secondly, a characteristically stingy defense appeared to fall apart, allowing the Falcons and Wolverines a total of 100 points over the weekend — almost 30 percent of all points the Pirates have allowed this season. Likewise, while the Pirates averaged 18.1 steals per game prior to last weekend, the defense averaged just 10.5 steals against Centauri and Bayfield (the only games where the Pirates logged single digits for steals — eight against the Durango Demons, nine against Centauri — were Pagosa’s only losses).
Thirdly, the Pirates returned to an inability to capitalize on free throws, hitting just over 50 percent from the charity line on both nights.
Finally, the Pirates’ explosive offense was somewhat sluggish over the weekend, with scoring below the team’s season average in both games — over 13 points lower during the loss to Centauri.
If Friday the Thirteenth cursed the Pirates, it was the Falcon’s lucky number. Coming into the game with an 8-2 record, the Falcons grabbed the initiative from the start, outscoring the Pirates 16-14 in the first quarter. The second quarter saw a defensive battle and a big offensive yawn (both teams held to just eight points) gave the Falcons a 24-22 lead going into the half.
“I don’t think we were prepared to play early on,” said Pirate head coach Randy Sorenson. “We didn’t execute offensively and again, couldn’t deliver defensively.”
The only other game where the Pirates were down going into the half was during their Jan. 5 62-56 loss to the Demons.
The Falcons grew that advantage during the third quarter, scoring 14 points while holding the Pirates to just half that, entering the fourth with 38-29 lead.
It was the Pirates’ inability to collect and return lost shots that had a lot to do with Centauri’s success.
“We talked all week about them being a good rebounding team,” Sorenson said. “I guess they didn’t think it was true.
At least the Pirate offense appeared to arise from its torpor in the final period. Apparently waking up to the fact that they were down nine points with just 12 minutes left, Pagosa guns opened up to score 21 points. However, it was an inability to rally a defense that ultimately led to the Pirates’ first conference loss, allowing 14 Centauri points in the quarter. Despite that strong offensive performance (scoring almost as many points in the fourth as they had in the entire first half), the Pirates’ halfhearted defense allowed the Falcons to celebrate a 52-50 victory.
“To the kid’s credit, they didn’t throw in the towel. They came back in the fourth and gave it their all,” Sorenson said.
A factor in that loss was the Pirate’s inability to finish from the paint, but also to keep the ball out of the Centauri players’ hands after missing those shots — Pagosa was just 24 percent on offensive rebounds.
Kain Lucero led the Pirates with 16 points (12 points scored from the three-point zone), six assists and three steals. Zachariah Griego was second in scoring with 10 points while Tyson Ross led with seven rebounds.
Although a win, Saturday night’s 60-50 victory over the Wolverines was anything but pretty. In front of a home crowd, the Pirates should have made quick work of the 3-4 Wolverines — a team that was actually 2-5 but benefited from a roster misstep by the Piedra Vista Panthers.
However, the Pirates allowed 16 Bayfield points in the first, gaining just a slight advantage by scoring 17 points on their own.
It was during the second quarter when the Pirates looked as though they had returned to their top-10 ranked form, holding the Wolverines to just eight points, but scoring 18 in the quarter. Going into the half with a large 35-22 lead, Pirate fans breathed a sigh of relief as Pagosa’s offense and defense appeared to hit all cylinders.
“We did a lot better job as a team,” Sorenson said.
That appearance was short-lived, unfortunately, as the Wolverines clawed their way back in the second half. With both teams scoring 14 in the third, it looked as though the Pirates could hold their lead, even if both offense and defense had gone back to sleep. However, Bayfield managed to turn on some steam in the fourth, narrowing the spread by outscoring the Pirates 15-11 in the final minutes of the game but not getting close enough, leaving Pagosa with a 60-50 loss.
Ross led the Pirates with 17 points, with Lucero finishing second with 13 points, leading the team with six assists. Griego (leading with nine rebounds) and Clay Ross finished with a pair of eights in scoring while Daniel Puskas, coming off an ankle injury that kept him off the court last week, led with three steals.
The Pirates have an opportunity to turn around their fortunes with two conference games and a non-league game this week. Hosting the 8-3 Mean Moose tomorrow night at 7 p.m., the Pirates face their toughest league opponents (despite their loss to Centauri), ranked ninth in this week’s Colorado Preps poll.
Although Alamosa barely lost 57-49 to the fourth-ranked Manitou Springs Mustangs on Dec. 3, the Mean Moose barely beat the Salida Spartans 46-45 Jan. 3 (a team the Pirates beat 84-40 Dec. 17 and 50-35 Jan.7) while putting together 51-41 (Dec. 17) and 51-39 (Jan. 6) victories against the Buena Vista Demons — a team the Pirates pounded 59-30 on Dec. 3.
Sorenson acknowledged that the Mean Moose will be a tough opponent, pointing to the team’s competitive qualities.
“They’re a pretty good team on the inside,” Sorenson said, “and they have a couple of good guards that can really shoot. We’ll have to be prepared.”
A Pirate victory on Friday should knock the Mean Moose out of the rankings — and provide Pagosa with a cold dish of revenge after Alamosa denied Pagosa last year’s IML crown. However, with the Falcons hosting the Wolverines tomorrow night, it won’t be until February that the Pirates can regain dominance in the IML standing.
On Saturday at 5:30 p.m., the Pirates travel to Monte Vista the 5-5 Monte Vista Pirates for another conference shoot out. With most of their wins coming against 2A teams, Monte should not offer much of a challenge.
“If you’re not prepared, anybody can beat you,” Sorenson said, unwilling to dismiss any suggestion of a certain win in Monte Vista.
On Tuesday, the Pirates return home to host the 8-1 Sanford Indians for a non-league match. Although the Pirates defeated the Indians 70-26, Sanford is ranked eighth in 2A basketball and is fielding a much improved team from last year.
By Wednesday morning, it should be evident if the Pirates are fielding a much improved team from last week.