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Durango’s season ends after being dominated by Dakota Ridge, 74-39

Demons trailed early and never recovered
Zach Unruh of Durango High School pushes off his defender while driving to the basket on Feb. 10, 2024, while playing Grand Junction at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Durango boys and girls basketball seasons ended in similar fashions.

Both teams opened the state tournament at Denver-area schools, turned the ball over early against pressure from better athletes and couldn’t recover.

The Demons had five turnovers in their first five possessions and eight turnovers in their first 10 possessions. Because of this, Durango trailed 13-0, never recovered and lost 74-39 at Dakota Ridge in the first round of the 5A state playoffs on Wednesday night.

The No. 21-seed Durango finished the season 11-12 overall and 4-4 in the 6A/5A Southwestern League play.

Dakota Ridge improved to 17-7 overall. The 12th-seeded Eagles moved on to play fifth-seeded Silver Creek in the second round.

“I've been doing this for a long time now and with my teams that I've gone to the state tournament with, one of the biggest things is that we just can't get down that big,” Durango coach Alan Batiste said. “You can't get down eight to zero and 10 to zero. That is hard for any team to have to get back into a game like that. You have to protect the basketball when you get to this level.”

Junior guard Noah Miles led the Demons with 14 points. Freshman forward Donovan Whitehead had seven points and senior guard Zach Unruh had six points as well.

Eagles junior guard Ethan Berninger scored 21 points, and junior guard Andrew Schneider’s 20 points. Berninger was averaging 23 points per game heading into this contest, which was fourth-best in 5A Colorado basketball.

“They run a lot of sets for him and for him to come off screens and a lot of it is decoy too,” Batiste said about Berninger. “They find him. When they penetrate if you find yourself looking at the ball, he knows how to move without the ball and he just finds that open spot. He's a catch-and-shoot guy and he gets it off pretty well. He's probably one of the purest shooters that we've seen all year … He has unlimited range, that one he hit he was like three feet off the line. He's a great catch-and-shoot guy and then he gets so many points in transition.”

Berninger immediately hit a deep 3-pointer from the wing to start the game and then the Demons turned it over on an over-and-back call. Durango turned it over again on the next possession and Berninger scored on two free throws.

Durango looked shellshocked and couldn’t run any offense. Schneider hit a 3-pointer and Dakota Ridge was up 10-0 with 5:51 after Batiste burned his second timeout.

“They had some smart guards, but we’ve played faster and quicker guards and teams that actually fly around on their press,” Batiste said. “We have one in our league in Fruita. We needed to still stay solid and hit our jump stops and fake a pass to make one. It was the fundamentals that hurt us.”

Batiste had opted for more size with Tyler Harms, Donovan Whitehead and Jacob Neubert all starting.

That starting lineup didn’t pay off with all the Durango turnovers early on with a lack of ball handling.

Schneider hit another 3-pointer but Miles hit a corner 3-pointer to put the Demons on the board down 13-3.

Durango looked like it wasn’t used to the athleticism and size the Eagles had. It was also a step too slow getting out to the Dakota Ridge shooters.

The Demons were limited to outside shots in the first quarter and couldn’t convert. Dakota Ridge led 20-3 after the first quarter.

“When you come into an environment like that and it's a big tournament, those lights are brighter,” Batiste said. “Their nerves are going to be there, but I told the boys they just needed to find their brother next to him and tell him to calm down and breathe because there's a lot we can't control.”

Durango started the second quarter better because it didn’t turn the ball over as much and that didn’t lead to Dakota Ridge transition buckets. Whitehead scored the first points of the quarter for either team three minutes in with a midrange jumper. But Durango once again struggled to take care of the ball. Berninger finished in transition with a nice euro-step to put the Eagles up 25-5 with 4:30 left in the second.

Schneider continued to impress with his deep 3-point range, and the Demons were too slow to contest. Durango was back to throwing the ball all over the place in the middle of the second quarter.

The Demons started scoring and got to the foul line. But Dakota Ridge continued to get good looks with its athleticism and Durango trailed 39-16 at halftime.

The Eagles were able to penetrate against the Durango defense and continue to hit from outside. The Eagles coaching staff called a timeout after Cody Rominger hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put Dakota Ridge up 50-22 with 3:44 left in the third quarter.

The Eagles got into the bonus with an aggressive attacking style. The Demons didn’t have the athleticism to match, so they ended up fouling while trying to defend. A 3-pointer by Dakota Ridge put the Eagles up 61-29 after three quarters.

Durango seniors Jacob Neubert, Jebby Holt, Tyler Harms and Zach Unruh played their last games, but the Demons will return talent like Whitehead and Miles next season.

“For them, these last three weeks to see some of that sunshine coming out because it was dark about three and a half weeks ago at Glenwood,” Batiste said about his seniors. “It was nice just to see them being able to thrive and see that success and climb back into the playoff picture. We wanted to pull off upset for them tonight. We have seen that done before. But unfortunately, it didn't happen for us tonight, but they had wonderful careers. All of them contributed. I look forward to seeing them move forward in their journey ahead.”


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