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Turnovers doom Demons as they lose 53-35 to Vista PEAK

Durango struggled with the Bison’s length and athleticism all night
Mariah Maestas of Durango High School has the ball knocked away by defenders Lyssea Mescal, left, and Mischa Quintana of Bloomfield High School on Jan. 9, 2024, while playing at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Vista PEAK put the full-court press on and never looked back. The Durango girls basketball team looked unsettled by the Bison’s athleticism at the beginning of the game and the Demons’ countless first-half turnovers dug themselves a hole they couldn’t get out of. Vista PEAK Prep led by double-digits for most of the game and cruised to a 53-35 victory at home in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.

No. 24-seeded Durango finished the season at 10-13 overall and 3-5 in the 6A/5A Southwestern League. Ninth-seeded Vista PEAK improved to 18-6 overall and moved on to face Frederick in the second round.

“That amount of pressure was probably a little bit of a shock to the system in the first half and eventually we did adjust to it to some extent,” Durango head coach Lauren Moran said. “We were able to compete particularly in the fourth quarter.”

Junior guard Mariah Maestas led the Demons with 13 points. Senior Carter Neiman had eight points in her last game as a Demon. Freshman forward Jaelyn Alston had eight points as well.

Vista PEAK was led by junior guard Eianna Jackson’s 11 points. Sophomore guard Amaya Nance had 10 points as well for the Bison.

Junior guard Amirah Pena started off the scoring with a backdoor cut into a layup and got fouled to put Vista PEAK up 3-0.

The Demons struggled with turnovers early on as the Bison pressed full-court and had a size and length advantage.

Vista PEAK went up 8-0 with five minutes left as the Demons couldn’t keep control of the ball and run good offense.

Maestas hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key to start off the scoring for Durango with about 4:20 left in the first.

The Bison made a layup against the Demons zone defense and then stole the Durango inbounds pass for a score and a foul. Vista PEAK led 12-3 with two minutes left in the quarter.

Durango turned the ball over once again in the backcourt as the Demons were clearly flustered by the Bison’s size and athleticism. Luckily for Durango, Vista PEAK struggled from the free-throw line so it couldn’t extend its lead even more.

The Demons had some chances on the offensive glass but nothing was falling in the first quarter. A free-throw by sophomore forward Ryne Neiman cut the Bison lead to 12-4 and that was the score after the first quarter.

Durango continued to turn the ball over in the second quarter but the Bison couldn’t take advantage as they missed numerous shots inside.

Alston made a layup but the turnovers continued to mount and Vista PEAK started hitting shots. Senior guard Anecia Toussaint made a layup inside and Moran called timeout down 22-6 with 3:49 to go in the second.

Durango started to score better late in the second quarter as Carter Neiman and Maestas hit shots inside and Maestas hit a 3-pointer. But the Bison responded with a couple of 3-pointers and a layup. Vista PEAK led 30-13 at halftime.

Moran said the 3-pointers by the Bison in the half-court made them so hard to guard.

The Bison continued to hit shots and extend their lead. Vista PEAK senior guard Mackenzie Griffin had a score off a steal to push their lead to 39-15 with less than six minutes left.

Durango was able to get some scores inside but it couldn’t stop Vista PEAK enough to make it a game in the third. Even when the Bison missed, they got the offensive rebound for another possession.

In the fourth quarter, the Demons found some success inside but still had quite a few turnovers. Vista PEAK was able to get out in transition and score. In the half-court, the Bison settled for mostly 3-pointers.

“In the first half, we weren't able to set up in half-court offense that much because we weren't getting the ball over against the press so much,” Moran said. “But when we were able to get in half-court sets and we were able to get the ball inside we did have some success. It would have been good if we could have done that even more.”

Vista PEAK’s senior Mimi McGaughy broke the Demons press easily and was fouled and proceeded to make both free throws and put the Bison up 52-30 with 2:28 left.

Durango is losing seniors Carter and Adde Neiman but should return a team next season that is very experienced.

“We've had quite a bit of adversity this season with the injuries, but what was positive is that everybody kept working hard and staying positive throughout all of that,” Moran said. “The girls are really connected as a team. Those close relationships are what allowed them to keep persevering and keep working hard.”