Ignacio volleyball's All-League setter Shoshone Thompson couldn't have teed him up any better.
Guard Cole McCaw timed his run-up and jump perfectly, and viciously spike-blocked Mancos freshman Christian Cova's three-point try into an ecstatic IHS bench, preserving the Bobcats' 20-9 advantage with 4:17 left before halftime.
McCaw previously had stolen the ball, which quickly translated into an Ocean Hunter layup, putting the 'Cats up 6-3 with 4:26 left in the first quarter.
Having already thwarted the visiting Blue Jays' last real chance at taking any sort of lead, head coach Chris Valdez knew the senior's shut-down work had provided essential inspiration.
"Cole tonight, didn't score a point," Valdez said afterwards.
"And I told them in the locker room (at halftime), 'We're not ahead by 29 (38-9) if Cole McCaw's not in the game! I don't care if he scores a point or not; he had the big block, had great defense - getting tips and deflections, helping other people get steals on the floor! Could we be 29 points ahead without him?' Everybody said, 'No,' and they were absolutely right. Because he did his job."
Following McCaw's swat, senior center/forward Kai Roubideaux immediately drove around a high-post screen for two points at the other end. Hunter then rejected a shot, resulting in a three-point play by senior guard Johnny Valdez, who drew Mancos senior Caleb Yoder's third personal foul.
Up 26-9 with 2:55 still remaining in the second quarter, Ignacio was far from content and accelerated their attack even more. Hunter took a Roubideaux feed for an easy hoop, junior guard Lawrence Valdez followed with a layup, Johnny Valdez did likewise and then knocked down a 16-footer with his next attempt.
Roubideaux then put an emphatic stamp on the half - if not the game - with a one-on-one stuff of MHS sophomore center Caden Showalter with 30 seconds left, which yielded a Lawrence Valdez breakaway layup at the other end. Putting salt in the wound, Johnny Valdez swished two free throws with 0:03 left on the clock, having drawn the 6'4" Showalter's second foul.
"Kai was fantastic," said Coach Valdez. "When Kai's on his game, we're better than we're capable of being, honestly."
"We knew that they were going to be tough," the boss continued. "Showalter would get his...especially once we put our younger guys in, but when we don't want him to score, he's not going to. That's all there is to it; our kids came out, played man for one solid quarter, showed that we could do it, then we went into that zone. It shut 'em down, and we just took off."
Cova did cash a three, getting the Jays into double digits at 45-12 and ending what had been a 25-0 Bobcat scoring run. The guests' hopes of a miraculous rally were dashed when Lawrence Valdez coldly canned a trey immediately after Cova.
With MHS down 51-20 through three quarters inside IHS Gymnasium, Showalter did score eight points against IHS' second unit in the fourth to finish with a team-high 16. However, behind freshman posts Dylan Labarthe (7 points) and Bryce Finn (2 points), the 'Cats still won the fourth by a 16-13 margin-increasing their final lead to 67-33.
"We weren't afraid," Valdez said, addressing Mancos' 6-1 overall and 2-0 2A/1A San Juan Basin League records coming in to the Dec. 19 test. "We did what we needed to do, and the kids really worked their butts off."
Three-of-three from the charity stripe and with four treys to his name, Johnny Valdez booked a game-best 23 points as Ignacio improved to 4-1 overall, 3-0 SJBL. Roubideaux, who began the game sinking two technical-foul free throws and then assisting on a Johnny Valdez backdoor layup, registered 14.
Lawrence Valdez totaled 13 points and Hunter eight as IHS effectively followed up their 81-52 rout of 3A Basalt three days earlier in the third-place game of the Montezuma-Cortez "Rumble in 'The Jungle.'" With only one loss this year, a 56-48 loss to 3A Moab on Day 1 of the Rumble, Chris Valdez was pleased with the Bobcats' collective development.
"Everybody has stepped up their game, so I'm real proud of them this far," he said. "But we've got big games (ahead). Got Bayfield next on our schedule, and I believe they're a top-four team!"
"But we know how to play basketball," Valdez declared. "This is pretty much the same team we went to regionals with last year, and we get to add Kruz (Pardo, senior guard) to that in January-another person who can attack the basket and do some things for us defensively!"
IHS will battle Bayfield (2-4, 0-0 3A Intermountain) at at 7 p.m. on Jan. 5, Day 1 of the Southwest Colorado Classic, hosted this year by BHS.