LOVELAND - A rough shooting stretch in the first quarter dug a massive hole the Bobcats couldn't claw out of Saturday.
The Ignacio High School boys basketball team was held to seven points in the first quarter to fall behind No. 4 Highland and never recovered on the way to a 65-54 loss in the Class 2A consolation bracket final at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.
"We had a tough game (Friday) with Ellicott and we got a little tired, and of course Highland is a very fast team and very good in transition, so they tired us out a little bit in the first half," Ignacio senior Johnny Valdez said. "We could have done better in our transition defense and I think that's what killed us in the first quarter. We started to come back and finally hit a few shots, but you could tell we were a little jelly. We were focused and ready to play, it was just one of those tough days, and give credit to Highland; they're a really good team."
The first quarter went about as poorly as possible for the No. 6 Bobcats (20-6). Throughout the quarter, Ignacio found open looks from 3-point range, shots the team has consistently made all season, but a lid was on the basket.
"It think it was nerves on Thursday but it was more legs today," Bobcats head coach Chris Valdez said of the shooting woes. "Our kids played hard all weekend, and so did Highland, they were able to overcome it a little more and hit some jump shots and free throws we weren't able to and got that big lead we had to come back from."
Highland (22-4) took advantage of the shooting struggles from Ignacio and built an 18-7 lead at the end of the opening quarter. The Huskies got their lead to as much as 14 points early in the second quarter before the Bobcats finally got a few shots to fall.
"It was very important," Highland's Koby Anderson said of the early lead. "We knew they (the Bobcats) were going to keep coming the whole game."
The Bobcats went on a quick 7-0 run to start the second, but the Huskies pushed the lead back to 13 points midway through the quarter.
Needing a spark, Ignacio sent Lawrence Valdez back into the game with three fouls. The junior guard hit a 3 on the first offensive possession he was back in for and sparked a run to get the Bobcats within four points at 31-27 when they went to the locker room for halftime.
But when play resumed in the second half, the tired legs of Ignacio began to show and Highland outscored the Bobcats 19-11 in the quarter to take a 50-38 lead.
The Bobcats tried to make a run in the fourth and got a couple key 3s from Johnny Valdez, but each time they got within single digits the Huskies answered to keep a comfortable cushion.
The size of the Huskies presented a challenge for the Bobcats throughout the game. When Highland would work the ball inside, the smaller Bobcats would help down to take some of the pressure off of their bigs Ocean Hunter and Kai Roubideaux. But when the help came, the Huskies would find the open player for a clean look at the basket.
"It was really tough because we were trying to double down, but their guards are fantastic," Johnny Valdez said. "They're very fast and good shooters, so that kind of took us away from our game of trying to double down and help Kai and Ocean, and I think they did a really good job down there.
"We got a few bad bounces. There were some steals we should have got. We'd miss by a little bit and it'd end with a layup (for Highland). It was a bit unlucky, but we played our hearts out and I'm proud of what everyone has done."
Johnny Valdez led the Bobcats with 20 points. Lawrence Valdez finished with 13 points and Roubideaux had 12 points.
Trey Allmon led the Huskies with 17 points, Logan Stewart had 11 points, Tate Bessire added 10 points and Anderson finished with eight points.
The Bobcats will say goodbye to five seniors - Cole McCaw, Kruz Pardo, Roubideaux, Johnny Valdez and Daniel Weaver - from this season's roster. Coach Valdez praised the group for their work throughout their careers and their ability to bounce back from rough times.
"There were times this team was off the reservation, just cuckoo and you didn't know what to expect one day, then the next they'd be completely focused and would give you everything they've got," coach Valdez said. "Those are the days I'll remember, when they went above and beyond, hyped each other up and it didn't matter who scored.
"What I want these kids to understand is this is not the biggest moment of their lives. This isn't their biggest moment and they have a lot of great things to happen. Be excited, take some great memories from this and move on. Don't let this be the best thing that ever happens to you."