First-half strategic adjustments by the Kent Denver Sun Devils coaching staff, tweaking and refining an impressively impenetrable zone defense, led to the Pirates playing catchup on scoring throughout a game that put an end to their postseason aspirations following a 46-44 loss last Saturday.
After an impressive 60-48 victory on Friday night against the Olathe Pirates, Pagosa looked poised for a win on Saturday afternoon, especially after the Sun Devils struggled to land a 59-51 win against the Denver Science and Tech Stapleton Knights earlier in the evening. Saturday’s game, however, showed the Sun Devils prepared to secure their place for a Fort Collins appearance, never allowing the Pirates to get ahead and eventually taking Pagosa down in the “Sweet 16” round of the state playoffs.
On Friday, Pagosa played a patient game, driving into the zone early and taking advantage of a deep bench. Out 18-4 at the end of the first quarter, Pagosa continued to dominate in the second, holding Olathe to just 15 points by the end of the half while scoring 33 points to gain a big advantage prior to the third quarter.
Pulling off the full court press in the second half allowed Olathe players room to settle in and take advantage of numerous Pagosa turnovers. Hitting several buckets from outside the arc, Olathe left the third with a 20-12 scoring advantage and went into the stretch down 45-35.
Again, Pagosa responded with patience and a deliberate pace, chewing up minutes on the clock and frustrating an Olathe bench that saw three key players fouling out in the fourth. Holding tight on defense while seeing no reason to break pace on offense, Pagosa finished with 15-13 scoring advantage in the fourth, taking the first round of the playoffs with a 60-48 victory.
“We kind of allowed them back in the game during the third quarter but we held on in the fourth for the win,” said Pirate head coach Randy Sorenson.
Tyson Ross led the team with 18 points, followed by Kain Lucero with nine, while both Daniel Puskas and Clay Ross tied with eight points each. Tyson Ross also led the team with 10 rebounds and Lucero led with nine assists.
Taking advantage of a deep bench and an impressively tight zone defense, the Sun Devils got out to an early lead on Saturday and, with one exception, never looked back. Down 8-2 early in the first (behind a pair of three-pointers by Kent Denver’s 6-4 power forward Lars Soderberg), the Pirates managed to gain their only lead in the game when Lucero hit a second three-pointer late in the period, giving Pagosa a 12-10 lead. However, with 6-3 Sun Devil junior Brian Boatman taking one from the charity line and scoring on a layup right before the buzzer, the Sun Devils went into the second with a slight 13-12 edge.
Adjusting their defense in the second, the Sun Devils managed to harass the Pirates in the zone while following through at the bucket. Continually bumping out their lead through the quarter, the Sun Devils went into the half with a 28-20 lead.
Sorenson said, “We played timid in the first half and didn’t really attack their zone. I felt that hurt us as well as the fact that we turned the ball over 22 times.”
That defense served the Sun Devils well until the final minutes of the second half. Outscoring Pagosa 10-9 in the third to enter the fourth with a nine-point lead, the Kent Denver defense stumbled midway in the final quarter. Sending Pirates to the line four times early in the period, the Sun Devils allowed the Pirates to cut down their deficit to just three points half way through the fourth as Pagosa players delivered on free throws.
Back and forth down the stretch, the score teeter-tottering between a three and four point game, the Pirates almost appeared to force an overtime period. However, down four points with less than 10 seconds on the clock, the Pirates were unable to produce points that would have forced an extra quarter, a quick two by Eli Stephens at the buzzer was not enough to save Pagosa from a 46-44 loss to Kent Denver.
“They played hard to the end,” Sorenson said. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Lucero led the team with 18 points while Stephens, Zachariah Griego and Clay Ross each scored five points.
With the Pirates’ season ending on Saturday, Sorenson said he has high hopes for next year.
“I’m really excited about the team we’ll have. There’s eight juniors who’ll be coming back as seniors next year.
“We have a great group of kids that really stepped up this year and I expect will do great things for us next year.”