The Bobcats are going back to state.
The Ignacio High School boys basketball team, with an unprecedented second-half offensive explosion, won the Region 3 championship Saturday in Durango, defeating Paonia 76-46.
The Bobcats, who will make their third consecutive appearance at the CHSAA Class 2A State Boys Basketball Championships in Pueblo next week, removed any doubts about a once-close game when they scored a season-high 29 points in the third quarter.
Ignacio's tenuous eight-point halftime lead reached 18 points by the end of the third period.
When reserve Colton Davis scored the Bobcats' final basket to complete the 30-point victory, the Ignacio faithful celebrated in their home away from home at Durango High School. Ignacio totaled 46 points in its biggest offensive half of the year.
“In the first half, we weren't working our penetration,” Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez said. “They were outhustling us; they were putting it all out there.”
Paonia senior Adrian Penny canned a pair of long 3-pointers in the first half to keep the Eagles close. And senior Kacey Kropp hit three early jumpers for Paonia, which used a tough man-to-man defense to slow the Bobcats.
But the Ignacio coaches addressed those issues at halftime, and Valdez offered a simple question for his team.
“I asked them ... are you going to the state tournament or not?
“Then I asked them to give me the best 16 minutes of their life (in the second half),” Valdez said. “We wanted to get our motor running, play aggressive defense and attack the basket.”
The message was clear, he said.
“When they walked out of that locker room at halftime, I could see it in their eyes,” Valdez said. “They were not going to let this one get away.”
Ignacio seniors Pedro Vigil and Ryan Brooks certainly were not going to let it get away.
Vigil delivered a perfect alley-oop pass to Brooks for Ignacio's first basket of the third quarter.
Brooks added a driving layup, and junior Paul Tahlo swished a 3-pointer.
Junior Shane Richmond hit back-to-back baskets.
After Brooks and Vigil scored again, Jay Black hit one of Ignacio's six 3-pointers.
But it was the final two 3-pointers of the quarter that boosted the decibels in the gym to their loudest level of the tournament.
“The first one felt really off,” senior Deion Hudson said of his first 3-pointer against Paonia. “But when I set up my feet, it (the shot) felt good.”
Then, with just two seconds left in the quarter, Hudson launched an NBA-range 3-pointer.
“After I hit the first one, I felt it. I felt like I could knock down another one,” Hudson said.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Hudson said.
“Deion hits those two shots ... they were huge,” Valdez said. “He's coming back from an injury. But with those two shots ... he's back.”
Hudson also earned special praise from Brooks, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Bobcats.
“When Pedro (Vigil) got in foul trouble early, we had our other guards step up big,” Brooks said.
“Those two 3s (from Hudson) really gave us the edge going into the fourth quarter. It was Deion's best game of the year,” Brooks said.
Brooks said the Bobcats listened to their coaches at halftime.
“They (Eagles) did come out strong. We knew they would give us a good game. They were some strong boys,” he said.
“We let them breathe a little in the first half.”
But not in the second.
“Coach told us to clamp down,” Brooks said after the Bobcats limited Paonia to only five points in the final quarter to bring their season record to 21-2.
Vigil, despite the early foul problems, finished with a game-high 18 points, including two 3-pointers.
“I didn't want this to be my last game,” Ignacio's senior leader said.
“I ... wanted to do this for my coach. He's worked so hard all year for us,” said Vigil, who also finished with eight assists.
Valdez said Vigil's time on the bench was as valuable as his time on the court Saturday.
“When he got those fouls ... he didn't whine about it. What he did was sit on the bench and support his team,” Valdez said.
“Then, when we got our leader back on the floor (in the second half), we got our confidence going.”
Richmond, the Bobcats' leading scorer in Friday's 30-point semifinal victory over Crowley County, added 14 points in Saturday's victory.
“We started out a little slow, but we picked it up in the second half,” said Richmond, who also had eight rebounds.
“This will be my third time (to state),” said Richmond, 3-for-3 in Elite Eight appearances. “This is what it's all about.”
Penny led Paonia with 16 points. Kropp added 11 for the Eagles (15-6). Paonia had defeated Sangre de Cristo 61-60 in overtime in Friday's late semifinal game. Ignacio beat Crowley County 59-29.
“People didn't think we could get there (state),” Valdez said. “And we lost some great players from last year, I won't lie to you. But these players kept their focus all year ... these players are a family,” said Valdez, who has directed the Ignacio boys to a 65-8 record over the last three seasons.
IHS finished second at state last year and fourth the previous year.
Now, the Bobcats will await their seeding assignment for the 2011 state tournament, which will be announced late today on www.chsaa.org.
Then, they will head to Pueblo on Wednesday along with their legion of faithful fans.
“Can't wait,” Hudson said.