Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo
Home sweet home.
And the return of the Durango High School basketball teams couldn’t have come at a better time, too. The girls have dropped three in a row after an 8-2 start, while the boys were swept last weekend by Southwestern League foes Grand Junction and Montrose, the loss to the latter a difficult one-point defeat.
The need to break a pair of losing streaks adds an element of intrigue going into Thursday’s rivalry doubleheader against Montezuma-Cortez High School, starting at 5:30 p.m.
Fortunately for both DHS programs, they’ll play the next five at home after a road-heavy schedule to this point. And while both teams are excited to get the chance to put together a streak of a more positive type at home, the boys team may be the most relieved of the two. The DHS boys have played just once at home – a Jan. 15 win over Pagosa Springs – in their first 13 games.
“It’s always good to be home. ... Sitting on the bus all day to Grand Junction gets you stiff. ... It’s hard to get off and play,” said Nate Atencio, son of Joanne and Raymond Atencio.
Durango boys head coach Alan Batiste said it’s a matter of accentuating the positive for his squad, which sits at 9-4 and 2-2 in the SWL. While the loss to Montrose may have been unexpected given each team’s record, the Demons still are in the SWL hunt with a chance to make a run at home. And in three of their four losses, the Demons have fell by a grand total of seven points – which is why Batiste said he’s emphasizing finishing close games.
“It just comes down to us having to finish a game,” Batiste said. “Putting ourselves in position. Being 10 points better than every team we play.”
And a big part of being able to finish in close games is an ability to avoid letting mistakes snowball on themselves and become an even bigger issue. Mental toughness and the calmness to execute down the stretch often is the difference between wins and losses in tight contests – or in this case, between 9-4 and 12-1. Learning how to overcome will be critical for a team that’s eyeing the postseason.
“We’re just sitting there dwelling on a lot of stuff that happens in the game, and we’re letting it carry over into the game. And it’s affecting our play; it’s affecting them individually,” Batiste said. “So we’ve just got to be able to move on to the next play if things start going bad or adversity hits. ... We’re 9-4, and we still haven’t played a complete game offensively or defensively.”
On the girls side, head coach Nancy Smith’s squad hasn’t had much luck cracking the upper reaches of the SWL, falling to Fruita Monument, Grand Junction and Montrose – who have a combined record of 36-9 – in the last three games. But the head coach said she’s happy with the way her team’s banded together in the face of the season’s first real adversity, including the loss of Jessica Sigillito to a knee injury, something they couldn’t quite pull off last year during a 5-16 campaign.
“We are rallying around one another,” Smith said. “We’ve had several talks about how this is a point in the season when teams implode and how we really don’t want that. And them supporting one another, encouraging one another and pushing one another is going to be what keeps us from doing so.”
Senior guard Molly Barnes said lessons from last year have helped this year’s DHS squad’s chemistry, and the Demons will need to rely on each other perhaps even more this year as they try and battle the pressure of a possible run to the postseason.
On the floor, DHS will need to improve on an 11-percent shooting performance in last Saturday’s loss to Montrose, which hampered its ability to set up the full-court press, which works better after made baskets. The Demons, who hang their hat on defense, have allowed 51 points per game in conference play, a number they’ll start to look cutting into Thursday.
“Our defense, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the best,” said Barnes, daughter of Joe Barnes and Carol Cunefare. “So I think we just have to come out with more intensity, because we always pick it up in the third and the fourth quarter, when we really need to do that from the very beginning.”
Fortunately, they’ll have a shot to get back on track against a winless Panthers team (0-12) that’s scored just a shade more than 20 points per contest in SWL play. And a pair of rivalry games in front of what’s a typically packed house might be just what the doctor ordered for both sets of Demons to shake back into form.
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo