Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
The Lutheran Lions got some divine intervention, if you ask James Willis.
Willis caught holy fire in the fourth quarter to score 15 of Lutheran’s 29 final-frame points, just enough to overcome a 20-2 third-quarter pummelling by the Ignacio High School boys basketball team.
IHS spent the final eight minutes of Saturday’s game in the role of hapless Job at Durango High School.
The Lions beat the Bobcats 52-46 in the Class 2A Region 3 championship game to secure a spot in the CHSAA Class 2A Boys Basketball State Championships next week at Massari Arena in Pueblo.
“I’m being completely honest; it was all God,” said Willis, who led all scorers with 19 points. “It was all Jesus Christ.”
The Bobcats, meanwhile, were left crying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?”
Visibly, at least, “God” was the Bobcats’ offensive rhythm.
After trailing 21-16 at half, the Bobcats hitched themselves to their own chariot of fire, and the flaming horses were Kelton Richmond and Wyatt Hayes.
Richmond galloped into the third quarter with three consecutive layups, one an alley-oop. He led the Bobcats with 15 total points.
“He pounded the boards a little bit,” IHS head coach Chris Valdez said.
Justin Carver hit a 3-pointer, then Hayes charged ahead with two of his own, one from about 25-feet deep.
“It was good just to get momentum going,” Hayes said.
Hayes scored 11 and Carver nine, a good portion of them scored in that 20-2 third quarter, which was capped by senior Austin Haire’s three-point play.
Ignacio cracked Lutheran’s 1-3-1 zone, after struggling some against the Lions’ much-superior size in the first two quarters. All of the Lions’ players top 6-feet, with five listed at 6-4 or higher.
“They’re huge; they’re monsters,” Valdez said. “And we’re not afraid of their height. Their height didn’t beat us, their abilities did.”
One of which was defensive shape-shifting, from the zone to man-to-man defense.
“They changed their defense,” Hayes said. “And we didn’t know what to do.”
The good Lord giveth, and the good Lord taketh away.
Willis – a 6-1 guard whom Valdez said has the build of a Division I college guard – went to work. He hit a pair of fourth-quarter 3s, mixed up with slicing drives through the lane. He led a 16-0 Lutheran run to start the fourth quarter, which wiped out Ignacio’s lead at 37-36 and ended at 39-36.
Josh Clausen added seven more points to finish with 13, and the Lions didn’t waver.
“They understand how to win,” Vadlez said. “They do it all year, too.”
“You’ve got to win the fourth quarter, if you’re going to win games,” he said. “We’re a 3½-quarter team right now.”
Still, 3½ quarters got the Bobcats to a 19-6 overall record, their fifth consecutive chance to host the Region 3 tournament and six points from their fourth state tournament berth in five years.
The fact that they’re not in that tournament alongside Lutheran is a shame, Lutheran coach Ryan Bredow told Valdez.
In his own words: “Man, this is not just a cliché statement – Ignacio is a very, very tough team,” Bredow said.
For his part, Valdez hopes the Lions win it all.