The Ignacio High School boys basketball team will being the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 2A Great 8 state tournament with the toughest possible matchup.
Ignacio (18-4) scored a 58-50 upset at No. 4 Mancos in Saturday’s Class 2A Region 4 championship. Ignacio entered the regional as the No. 13 seed, and after taking home another regional title, the Bobcats were re-seeded for the state championship.
Ignacio earned the No. 8 seed and will face No. 1 Highland (23-1) of Weld County at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
“We were the No. 7 seed and we should have gotten Limon. They moved us down because, let’s face it, we’re in Southwest Colorado and we don’t matter. Period,” IHS head coach Chris Valdez said. “That’s it. There’s no explaining it. I mean, RPI is black and white. They’re 11, and we’re 9. How does that not work out? Now they put us against the best team in the state, and I think they’re the best team in the state by 20 points. I mean, last week Peyton caught them off guard and almost had them. But their style of play is hard to guard. We matchup great with Limon, and we proved it by almost beating them. But their bigs were too slow to guard us, and they’re huge, but they can’t guard us when they’re our size.
“For us, Limon is a perfect matchup. Now we have to go against a quick team that’s a lot faster than we’ll ever think of being. We think we’re fast, wait until you see these kids play. They’re unbelievably fast. Does that mean we can’t beat them? Absolutely not. We’re going up there with the intention of doing our job, but we’ve got to adjust our game to make sure that we compete at a high level there. There’s things that we can do to do that.”
Highland finished runner-up in last season’s 2A tournament. The Bobcats faced Highland once before in the state tournament, as the Huskies beat IHS for the consolation championship game in 2018.
Valdez called Saturday’s win over Mancos a special performance because few outsiders thought the Bobcats were good enough to reach the Great 8.
“This group has come so far in such a short span,” Valdez said. “Last year, we lost two games at districts and didn’t go to regionals for the first time in 20 years. We didn’t win a district championship that year or this year. So, this is some, I don’t know, maybe divine intervention. Somebody wanted us back up there, and we’re going to work our butts off and give them our best. That’s all we can do. We earned the right to be there.”
Highland also earned the right to be the state tournament’s top seed. The Huskies won the Region 2 championship Saturday with a 65-63 win against No. 15 Holly. The Huskies’ lone loss came against 3A power Eaton in a 90-89 loss in December. Since then, the Huskies have rattled off 19 consecutive wins and have put up over 100 points in a single game on two different occasions this season.
The Huskies are loaded with scorers and are led by senior Tate Bessire, who averages 23.8 points per game, while his younger brother, Jase, a junior, averages 18.5 points per game. Bowen Tolle averages 14.8, and Holden Morgan is also a double-digit scorer, as he averages 11.8 points per game.
Ignacio is led by Bryce Finn, who averages 11.8 points per game but was held to just two points in the regional championship game. Meanwhile, junior point guard Brady McCaw stepped up and scored a game-high 24 points in Saturday’s win over Mancos. He is the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game. Triston Thompson has been lethal from beyond the arc, averaging 9.2 points, while senior Ocean Hunter is just behind Thompson at 9.1 per game.