Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Playoff games often come down to one decisive run.
Once the Durango High School boys basketball team found the soft underbelly of the Pueblo South defense, that decisive run belonged to the Demons.
Durango used brief 7-0 and 6-0 scoring outbursts in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Colts 18-10 in the final quarter to pull away for a 50-41 victory Tuesday in the first round of the CHSAA Class 4A Boys Basketball State Championships at DHS.
Entering the fourth quarter, neither team had led by more than four points, with DHS holding a precarious 32-31 lead. But a Morgan Miller turnaround jumper in the lane, a weapon he used judiciously to accrue 12 points, started a quick 7-0 run by Durango to start the quarter.
With Nick Hamlin hampered all night with foul trouble, Miller switched gears to become more of a back-to-the-basket force down the stretch for DHS, helping the Demons to their first postseason win since beating Boulder in 2006.
“They told me at halftime that I needed to become a presence down low because Nick was out of the game, and I just took it to heart because it was the first playoff game of my career, and I wanted to make the most of it,” said Miller, son of Kim and Mark Miller.
Pueblo South (10-14) answered with a quick 6-0 burst of its own to trim the lead to 39-37 with a little more than five minutes left in the game, a run helped by Jimmy Makloski’s three-point play.
But Durango answered with six consecutive points of its own, and with the Colts having fouled just three times in the half, the Demons were able to run clock late before icing the game with free throws and a Miller tip-in.
Defensively, Durango’s 1-3-1 and man defenses, coupled with some poor shooting luck, helped hold the Colts’ leading scorer, Dominick Bregar, 11 points below his 19 points-per-game average at eight. Taylor Voss led the way for Pueblo South with 10 points, and Makloski had seven.
“We just went in with our strategy. We knew we weren’t going to change what works for us,” DHS head coach Alan Batiste said.
DHS (13-11) was led by sophomore Kaleb Cobb, who came off the bench to score 15 points. Joe Keresey chipped in eight, and Kevin Rangel had six points to supplement a solid defensive effort.
In the first quarter, Batiste wasn’t happy with how his team attacked the Colts’ 2-3 zone, with the Demons settling for too many jump shots and scoring mostly in transition off turnovers before settling in.
DHS trailed 13-9 after one but cut the lead to 22-20 at halftime.
“We knew they would sit in their zone. ... They went into that zone in the second half because we weren’t getting into those gaps toward the end of the second quarter,” Batiste said. “So I would sit in that zone against us too if we aren’t hitting from the outside.”
Cobb led the charge into the defensive gaps in the second quarter, scoring five consecutive points for DHS to turn an 18-15 deficit into a 20-all tie. All of his points came on layups with the exception of a lone free throw on a three-point play.
“Coach has been getting on (me) a lot about trying to penetrate to the hole more, so that’s what I tried to do this game, because the layup’s the easiest shot in the game,” said Cobb, son of Lisa and Michael Cobb.
Next up for DHS is the top seed in the Bill Weimar Region – 22-1 Sierra. The two will meet Friday in Colorado Springs, and both Miller and Cobb were adamant that trying to get into too much of a footrace with the Stallions would be detrimental to their hopes, especially after DHS turned the ball over 15 times Tuesday.
“We’ve got to keep our tempo,” Cobb said. “We can’t just keep going and fast-breaking it and throwing home-run passes.”
“We can’t get in a track meet with a team like that,” Miller said.