On Saturday, it was all smiles for a few minutes as the Ignacio Bobcat boys hoisted the regional plaque above their heads.
The Sangre de Christo Thunderbirds of Mosca became Victims No. 23 this season for the un-victimized Bobcats. They fell 49-20 in the 2A-Region III Tournament championship at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
"Like Coach said in the locker room, defense wins championships," said senior forward Kelton Richmond. "And we all just came out and played defense-great help defense. We didn't get beat off the dribble and we boxed out and got our rebounds."
And, when combined with the previous evening's 77-32 drilling of Del Norte in the semifinals, the triumph was sweet after eluding them the previous two seasons
"You know we talked about it," said IHS Head Coach Chris Valdez. "Told 'em it was important," referring to the team's chance to do away with the haunting ghosts of 2012 and '13, "but not to make it such a big deal that you add pressure on you. Go out and play loose, and have some fun!"
"We want to win, and the way we play to win is by not putting pressure on ourselves, by working hard, and the kids did. They did a fantastic job."
"I think they prepared us good for the state tournament," sophomore guard Wyatt Hayes said of his regional opponents. "Because they're super physical.I'm excited to go up there."
Though the final deficit might indicate otherwise to some, let none be deceived; there was still hope indeed against the San Juan Basin League's beast for Sangre de Cristo. A dearth of points in the third quarter meant no comeback for the Thunderbirds.
A trio of Jefferson threes during the third quarter, along with junior forward Adison Jones' first six points, made Ignacio's advantage 39-13 entering the fourth-in which senior reserve forward John House, the 10th Bobcat to score, capped the victors' output.
"Clayton really stepped up-everybody really stepped up," Hayes said. "Our scoring was really even, so we didn't have a standout player today. Adi's a really good 'team' player.we're really unselfish as a team, so that's really good," summarized Hayes.
Jefferson's 14 points led the 'Cats against Sangre, with Hayes and Jones each netting six and Carver and Tucker Ward each contributing five. Manzanares and Richmond scored four apiece.
"But we can't rest on what we did-we played great defense, but we want to do that every week and we want to do that next week," Valdez stressed. "Because we have an opportunity ahead of us! Take one game at a time.if we can keep them from shooting easy shots when they've got a great player like [Caton], I'm really happy."
"They wished us luck," he added, meaning the Sangre coaches, "and I felt pretty good about that."
Every 'Cat and coach felt pretty good about receiving the 1-seed in this weekend's 'Great Eight' bracket.