The Durango girls basketball season has turned into a season of what-ifs. The Demons had so many injuries this season that it’s reasonable to wonder how many more wins they could’ve gotten if they could have stayed healthy.
Now Durango is healthy and looked strong with its key players back from injury. The Demons clamped down on Grand Junction Central’s offense and junior guard Mariah Maestas’ 20 points along with her playmaking led the Demons to a 41-37 victory over the Warriors.
After the win Monday night inside Durango High School, Durango improved to 10-10 overall and 3-3 in 6A/5A Southwestern League. Grand Junction Central fell to 11-10 overall and 4-2 in the 6A/5A Southwestern League after the loss.
“This one definitely feels really good,” Durango head coach Lauren Moran said. “It was a great team win and our defense really led the way. We really emphasized the need to cone out stronger at the beginning of the game and we did that.”
Moran said she and her staff have talked with the girls about having good energy in warm-ups and being more vocal to help start games stronger.
Maestas led the Demons with 20 points, including three 3-pointers and 3-4 from the free-throw line. Senior forward Carter Neiman had eight points as well.
The Warriors were led by senior Krystyna Manzanarez’s 19 points.
Durango got off to a strong start and were up 12-5. But Grand Junction Central hit two 3-pointers at the end of the corner to cut the lead to 14-11. Maestas hit a shot near the end of the quarter to push the Durango lead to 16-11.
Both teams hit 3-pointers to start the second quarter. The Warriors had great ball movement and found Adriyan Hollos inside. Maestas continued her hot 3-point shooting and the Warriors started turning the ball over with butterfingers on the baseline.
“They had to come out of their zone because of her hitting those outside shots,” Moran said about Maestas.
But another 3-pointer, this time by the Warriors’ Ellagrace Kellerby, cut the Durango lead to 22-19. But junior guard Lilly Fitzpatrick had an answer with a nice spin move at the baseline and hit a spinning bank shot to put the Demons up 24-19 and Durango took that five-point lead into halftime.
Maestas hit a nice finish with her left hand and Carter Neiman hit a nice midrange jumper to push the Demons lead to 28-21 with 6:15 left.
The Demons fans were up in arms after Fitzpatrick got called for two questionable fouls on back-to-back possessions. Grand Junction Central’s Brynn Wagner got inside for a nice layup and cut the Durango lead to 28-27 with four minutes left.
Durango got to the free-throw line and junior forward Ellie White made two free throws to put the Demons up 32-29 with 2:05 left in the third. Durango took a 33-29 lead into the fourth.
Carter Neiman gave the Demons a 35-29 lead with 5:25 left but Manzanarez hit a corner 3-pointer on the next possession to cut the Durango lead to 35-32 lead.
Neiman hit another inside shot but Manzanarez was taking over offensively. She hit a short shot off a rebound and a tough 3-pointer to tie the game at 37 with 3:20 left.
“Everything in their offense runs through those two,” Moran said about Manzanarez and Wagner. “We put a huge emphasis on stopping them. In the first half, some of their players did hit some shots but we were willing to live with those, we were limiting their primary scorers. Eleven (Manzanarez) eventually did score a decent amount but we forced her to shoot difficult shots and some of them she made.”
The Demons got out in transition off a miss from Manzanarez and Fitzpatrick hit White for a layup to push the lead to 39-37 with 2:20.
Fitzpatrick grabbed a rebound but was involved in a collision on the baseline. She had to leave the game. Durango got the ball off a turnover and looked to chew clock up two with less than two minutes left.
Moran said her squad’s ability to chew clock has improved this year because of all the close games they’ve played.
Maestas had a critical error when she went over and back and turned it over with 1:11 left. Manzanarez missed a midrange shot and the Demons looked to be in the clear on a 2-1 fast break but Carter Neiman traveled while trying to pass to White with 51 seconds left.
The Warriors looked like they wanted Manzanarez to make something happen but she dumped it inside to a teammate who got stripped and the Demons got the ball.
Maestas escaped pressure and dumped it down to White for a layup to put the Demons up 41-37 with 15 seconds left. Manzanarez hucked up a desperation 3-pointer and it hit nothing but backboard and Durango won.
The Demons are back in action on Friday on the road at Montrose.