Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
Pagosa Springs had every reason to be riding high heading into Tuesday – an unbeaten record and the No. 2 ranking in Class 3A chief among them.
Durango, however, had the right pin to pop the Pirates’ early-season party balloon.
A solid defensive performance and a couple of timely offensive outbursts gave the Durango High School boys basketball team a reason to celebrate Tuesday after a 52-44 win over the previously unbeaten Pirates at DHS.
The Demons (6-2) did their best work on the defensive end, holding a potent Pagosa Springs offense 17 points under its season average. Leading scorer Kain Lucero still found a way to score 24 points, but Durango held his teammates to 20 total, and the Pirates made just 15 of 46 field-goal attempts – 32.6 percent.
“We have confidence in our defense. That’s what we’re thriving on for this season,” DHS head coach Alan Batiste said. “We knew Lucero was going to be the go-getter and the train driver.
“Overall, we just knew that we needed to help off of him, show on picks and just pretty much box out. We finally got that together in the second half.”
“We’ve been huge on our defense. It’s what we work on; it’s our main thing,” said Ty Elliott, son of Ahne and Russ Elliott.
Lucero did most of his damage in the fourth quarter, when Pagosa Springs (7-1) cut what had been a 15-point lead down to 46-41 on Quinn Smith’s layup with 1 minute, 17 seconds to play in regulation.
But Nick Hamlin answered with a layup, and Elliott, active most of the evening trying to weave through Pagosa’s 2-3 zone, got out in transition and scored on a layup before being knocked into the padding beyond the baseline. He missed the free throw, but by then the damage was done with DHS up 50-41.
A couple of cosmetic buckets, including a half-court heave from Lucero, closed the scoring.
“Overall, I think the (three)-week break, you could see it out there (Tuesday). I don’t want to make excuses. It kind of showed on our late-game execution because we haven’t been in that situation,” Batiste said.
Through the course of Tuesday’s four-quarter journey, Batiste may have found himself a gunslinger. Lucas Baken, who scored 13 in his call-up to varsity duty against Palisade, hit six 3-pointers for 18 points, and his timing couldn’t have been better. The freshman hit three down the stretch, including one near the buzzer, to close out the first half and push a tight game to a 26-16 DHS lead at intermission. He also hit a 3 at the horn to close out the first quarter and one to open the second-half scoring and give Durango its biggest lead.
“I was just feeding off the crowd’s energy, and coach gives me the green light, which is awesome as a freshman to have, so I took advantage of it,” said Baken, son of Dante and Jessica Baken.
Elliott said the play of Baken and the defensive contributions of a handful of other underclassmen helped take some of the burden off of the starters and more experienced players. The senior guard wasn’t too shabby in his own right, scoring six of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to help the Demons hold off the hard-charging Pirates.
Hamlin, despite battling foul trouble, chipped in nine points and seven rebounds for Durango, which shot 47 percent from the field Tuesday night. Willy Frownfelter had eight.
Now, Durango will turn its attention to the Southwestern League, where they’ll hit the road once again for their first four games, starting Friday with Grand Junction Central. A big win over a ranked foe, even one a classification lower, provided a chance to shake off the rust and a shot of confidence as the Demons begin their quest for a big benchmark – a conference crown.
“We’re coming into league now, and coming off that three-week break ... that’s just a big win. We’ve been jonesing for that win,” Elliott said.