Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
The Bobcats and their fans almost could see the lights of Pueblo off in the distance.
The Ignacio High School boys basketball team lit up Sanford early in Saturday’s Class 2A regional championship game at Durango High School, leading by 12 points with one quarter to play.
A fourth consecutive trip to the Class 2A elite eight in Pueblo appeared right on schedule.
But that’s when the power went out.
Sanford took advantage of Ignacio’s basketball blackout with a shocking 22-2 run in the fourth quarter, beating the Bobcats 61-53 with an electrifying comeback in the regional final.
“It was all defense,” Ignacio head coach Chris Valdez said outside a somber Bobcats’ locker room. “Defensively, we broke down late because we were tired.”
He said Sanford’s depth proved decisive when the Indians hammered away at Ignacio’s lead in the second half.
“They’ve got the ability to rotate (players), and we don’t. We’re not deep ... and they are,” Valdez said.
The Bobcats’ fatigue also was costly against the fourth-quarter press of Sanford.
“Our press-breaker was kind of stumbling there, and then we were making little passing errors,” he said of critical fourth-quarter turnovers.
The Bobcats’ 12-point lead was cut in half early in the fourth quarter on consecutive 3-point baskets by Sanford’s Calder Larsen and Josh Jarvies.
But Ignacio stopped the mini-run on an inbounds-play basket by Shane Richmond, who led all scorers with 30 points. That basket, however, with 6:27 to play would be the last points the Bobcats would score.
When Jarvies swished his third 3-pointer of the final quarter, Sanford took its first lead of the game 54-53 with 2:47 to play.
The Indians converted 8 of 12 free throws down the stretch to earn their trip to Pueblo next weekend.
“I thought we never stopped battling the whole game,” said Larsen, a sophomore and the son of head coach Rhett Larsen. “We played hard, and we kept chipping away at the lead,” he said after leading the Indians with 24 points, including four 3-pointers.
“We never stopped believing, of course, But, definitely, when the shots start falling, you pick up confidence,” he said of the late comeback.
Jarvies, a senior lefty, added five 3-pointers and 19 points for the Indians (20-5).
“I can’t really explain it,” said Rhett Larsen, the Sanford coach who was swarmed by his elated players after Saturday’s win.
“The kids just kept battling ... they never stopped working hard. They may have ... had a little doubt, but they never stopped working hard, and then good things started to happen,” Larsen said.
“It was just an amazing comeback.”
Richmond and the Bobcats dominated play through three quarters before a “home” crowd that doubled as an Ignacio alumni meeting.
To open the game, Valdez spread the Ignacio offense, and Richmond responded by scoring the first nine points for the Bobcats on inside moves. He even drilled a 3-pointer as part of a 21-point scoring outburst in the first half when he was 9 of 10 shooting from the floor.
Teammate Clayton Jefferson continued his torrid 3-point shooting by hitting three more in the first half Saturday against Sanford. He finished with 15 points.
The Bobcats pushed their lead to a max of 14 points when Adam Herrera outraced the Indians on a fast-break layup late in the third quarter.
Two Bobcats, Jefferson and Xavier Watts, fouled out in the fourth quarter as the Ignacio boys battled foul problems throughout the game.
“It was a tough weekend ... they came back strong,” said Richmond, a senior who averaged more than 26 points per game for the Bobcats.
“We ... were maybe a little tired at the end. And they started hitting everything,” said Richmond, the son of Denise and Jeff Richmond.
He was able to take advantage early in the game when the Bobcats spread the defense.
“They weren’t helping (on defense) that much early in the game, and I was able to score,” Richmond said.
But pressure defense by the Indians changed that.
“They put on a full-court press, and it wasn’t as easy (to get the ball inside). They made things tough on us,” Richmond said as he tried to encourage his devastated teammates.
“We got in such foul trouble ... both halves,” Valdez said after the Ignacio boys finished the year 18-5 – one game away from a fourth consecutive appearance in Pueblo.
“It is what it is,” Valdez said.
“But we’re going to stay home this year.”