Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
The Demons knocked out the Wildcats with a smooth left jab and a wicked straight right.
The Durango High School boys basketball team used that jab – Nick Hamlin’s layup – to break open Pueblo Central’s guard, before the straight – Ty Elliott and Willy Frownfelter’s telegraphed long-range jumper – smashed the Wildcats in the nose and put them on the ropes.
In between, the sixth-seeded Demons employed some rope-a-dope footwork from Isiah Mayberry to tie it all together and knock No. 11 Pueblo Central off the DHS court 64-54 and out of the 2013 CHSAA Class 4A State Boys Basketball Championships on Tuesday night.
“He was an enforcer down there,” Hamlin said of Mayberry. “Isiah wasn’t going to back down from anybody, and he was going to throw the first punch.”
Metaphorically, of course.
Mayberry scored four points, but his presence under the basket and all over the Wildcats’ leading scorer, freshman Michael Ranson, kept Durango stickin’ and movin’ to build a 15-point lead in the third quarter en route to the unanimous decision.
“When we went man (defense), (Mayberry) shut him down,” DHS head coach Alan Batiste said.
Ranson finished with 10 points, all but two from the fourth quarter.
Elliott, meanwhile, led all scorers with 21 points, Frownfelter punched in 19, and Hamlin went to the body for 16 more.
Hamlin, returning from an ankle injury, provided a key punch in the Demons’ arsenal, softening up Central’s quick zone defense with layups – both left- and right-handed – and freeing up Durango’s guards for the haymaker.
Unable to get full extension with the still-tender joint, Hamlin had to lean on finesse.
“I was really focusing on my hands and my shots, and things were dropping on the home basket,” said Hamlin, son of Thomas and Victoria Hamlin.
Batiste said those moves were integral to keeping the often-slow and defensive-oriented Demons moving forward to score in the 60s for just the second time this season.
“It’s night and day from last weekend,” said Batiste, referencing Durango’s 63-41 loss to Palisade in the final of the Southwestern League/Western Slope League District Championships, which Hamlin missed with the injury.
“He doesn’t even have to score,” Batiste said of the 6-2 senior. “Just him touching it opens up things for our offense that we don’t usually have.”
Like that straight right.
Elliott, who dropped five 3-pointers Tuesday, hit his mark right away in the first quarter, and Frownfelter found it not long after with seven points in a row to set the Wildcats weaving.
Central trailed 25-19 at the half after three second-quarter lead changes, the last of which was courtesy of a long Frownfelter jump shot.
But Pueblo Central had a solid chin.
“They didn’t want to lose,” Hamlin said.
The Wildcats found a good cut man of sorts in Zach Andrews, who’s slick, turnaround jumper kept the swelling down.
The 6-3 post tagged the Demons a few times to keep the game close in the first half and sent them stumbling again in the fourth as part of Central’s frantic press defense.
“I was just trying to score; I was just trying to be relentless,” said Andrews, who led Central with 15 points.
The Demons tripped over themselves in the final frame, turning the ball over seven times and on four of their first five possession to allow the Wildcats to rush back and turn a 15-point deficit into a four-point game on Gyasi Howard’s 3-point counterpunch.
“A 12-point lead is really like a four-point lead for us, sometimes,” Batiste said.
Howard finished with 10 points.
Two quick jabs from Hamlin opened the lead back up, and once the Demons got their feet back, Frownfelter lost his when Ranson threw him on the court for a foul after a box out.
“He got really sad because he’s a freshman. Then he threw me down, and I really wanted to hit my free throws,” said Frownfelter, son of Bill Frownfelter and Sally Jones.
The Demons’ point guard swished both and threw Ranson a cold stare even Muhammad Ali would be proud of.
His free throws were the first of eight in a row from the Demons to keep the Wildcats at bay before the final bell.
DHS (17-6) will play No. 3 Cheyenne Mountain (17-6) in Round 2 of the state tournament at 3 p.m Friday in Colorado Springs.