LOVELAND – Highland High School came out guns a blazing in Thursday’s Class 2A Great 8 boys state tournament quarterfinal at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
The top-seeded Huskies (23-1) started the game on a 15-0 run in the opening three minutes and never looked back in a 80-35 win that sent them to the state semifinals and Ignacio to the consolation bracket.
No. 8 Ignacio (18-5) struggled to find its usual up-tempo offense, as the Huskies forced four Bobcats’ turnovers in the opening minute of the game to take a 9-0 lead. That forced IHS head coach Chris Valdez to spend an early timeout. The Huskies were just getting started.
“That was the same thing the last time we came up here, we got off to a really slow start,” Valdez said. “We say you got punched in the mouth and never recovered, really. It was a boxing match out there, figuratively. Highland is 30 points better than us, and we fell apart at times. There were times where if we played our game where we could’ve made it more respectable, but we came out and turned the ball over too early and too often.”
The game was played with a small attendance after CHSAA banned the general public from attending because of concerns over the COVID-19 virus. Still, both teams managed to travel well, as each player was allowed four family members or guest to attend the game. Those in attendance provided a strong atmosphere for the final Great 8 game of the 2A tournament.
Late Thursday night after the game was completed, it was announced CHSAA would cancel the rest of the state basketball tournaments because of the new coronavirus, so Thursday’s result suddenly seemed less important.
Highland, which finished runner-up in last year’s tournament, was led by Jase Bessire with 25 points. He scored 21 in the first half, including three 3-pointers. The inside presence came from 6-foot-5 center Bowen Tolle with 16 points, and he scored 12 before halftime.
Ignacio’s leading scorer was Joe Garcia with six points. Bryce Finn and Dylan Labarthe each had five, and four different players had four.
Even after only hitting two 3-pointers in the first quarter, Highland was already in the drivers’ seat and had a 30-6 lead after the first quarter.
“We came out strong because we’re used to this environment and this atmosphere,” said Bessire. “We’ve been here before, and we know what it takes. Once we got ahead, we didn’t let up and we kept on going, and that’s how we got that big lead.”
It was all Highland in the second quarter, with Bessire hitting his first of three 3s in the quarter. He also hit one with a second remaining to put the Huskies up 52-16.
Ignacio’s highlights included a Brady McCaw 3, and Bird Red had a big block on Colton Pettit.
In the second half, Highland continued to feed the low block as Tolle and Holden Morgan combined for nine out of the Huskies 16 third-quarter points. Dylan Labarthe provided a spark for IHS, as he recorded a few steals. Even after improved defensive intensity, it was 68-25.
“Dylan was the one kid on our team that’s never scared,” Valdez said. “He just gets the ball and goes. If everybody played with that intensity all of the time, we would be an unbelievable basketball team. We’re not quite there, but his intensity tonight was fantastic.”
Valdez took his starters out midway through the fourth quarter, which allowed Garcia to finish strong. He made three free throws in the third quarter and added a 3-pointer in the fourth.
“We’ve never seen a team like (Highland), and none of our teams in our area play anything like that,” Valdez said.
“Not with the speed, aggressiveness and physicality. Defensively, we never see that ever, and th next closest we’ll see is tomorrow. Because Sanford plays in your face, as well.”
Ignacio’s season is now over along with the rest of the state’s basktball teams after the late-night announcement
“Sometimes you get punched in the mouth and don’t recover,” Valdez said. “Now, we have to get back up and try and get your seniors some wins at the state tournament. We’re in a situation where we got knocked down, but I know we can get back up again.”