The fierce Ridgway/Ouray basketball rivalry didn’t die, not even after both teams had lost to their Final Four adversaries. Rather, the two neighboring towns met each other for the fifth time this season on Saturday in the State Consolation Final, in the fight for Colorado’s third place ranking.
At the end of a characteristically fiery match, it was the Demons who emerged with the slim four-point victory over their toughest league rivals, taking the third-place title in the process.
Ridgway’s rocky climb to the top
It had been more than a decade since Demons’ boys basketball cracked the code for entry into the State basketball tournament.
Last weekend, the team proved that it was no mistake that they had made it that far into the post-season, winning four of five matches to take third place among Colorado’s One-A schools.
“It was a big accomplishment for us just to get to the State tournament,” said Demons’ head coach Paul Fouts following his team’s whirlwind week, which culminated in a hard-fought 56-52 victory over their fiercest rivals Ouray in Saturday’s Consolation Final.
Getting to the Final Four required some well-timed fireworks, which Ridgway was able to deliver this post-season, starting with back-to-back Regional victories over tough-playing teams Primero and South Baca.
Fouts says the Demons’ 60-55 win over Primero on March 2 represented a significant turning point for the team on their way to the State showdown. During that match players were nervous, yet managed nonetheless to overcome their adversaries – both on the court and in their psyches.
“We somehow got the win, and I think that allowed us to get the monkey off our back,” he said, noting that the first Regional win helped the team overcome a major mental hurdle.
It was smoother sailing from there, with the Demons handily winning their final Regional match against South Baca 59-51, then playing a solid game against Hi Plains in the Great Eight.
In their big 44-25 Great Eight victory, Ridgway found some confidence playing what Fouts’ called “our own game.”
“We were able to speed up the game and force turnovers, which is a different style than they were used to,” he said of the Hi Plains matchup last Thursday.
On Friday, Ridgway carried their earlier-won confidence into their first half against Caliche. But persistent pressure layed on thick by Caliche’s offense eventually got the best of the Demons, who fell 71-60 in the Final Four round.
Ouray doesn’t miss a beat climbing to Final Four
The Trojans knew early on that if they hoped to realize their State Tournament dreams this year, they would have to focus on one very important goal: beating their neighborhood rivals Ridgway when it counted most.
And that they did, in this season’s Divisional Championships on Feb. 27 in Olathe. Trojans’ head coach Jim Blennis says that it was during that game that he finally saw the potential of his team; and in turn, his team found their stride going into the Regional tournament.
“All of a sudden it just came together,” Blennis says of the Divisional game, in which they beat the Demons (one of the State’s highest-ranked 1a teams) by 20 points. He knew the first-round Regional bye, which they won along with the District trophy, was crucial if they hoped to get to State this year.
That District win meant so much, in fact, that they actually celebrated that victory more heartily than their subsequent Regional game win over Walsh the following weekend.
Going into the State tournament, Ouray was never able to recreate the offensive vigor they displayed in their big Divisional win over Ridgway at the end of February.
“We struggled to score in every game,” Blennis said, noting that he would expect some offensive frustration when playing the best teams in the state. “But I had hoped we would recapture the way our offense played at Districts.”
Although the team was never quite able to recreate the offensive fireworks they assembled at Districts, the Trojans are a team with enough overall firepower that they were able to upend their adversaries in the Great Eight, beating Creede 35-22.
In that game, it was the Trojans’ defense that really shined.
“They simply couldn’t score on us,” Blennis said of the Creede match. “We couldn’t have played better defensively.”
Unfortunately the offensive firepower and defensive pressure weren’t there the following day when Ouray met Otis in the Final Four. Although the Trojans managed to bring the score to within one point by the third quarter, Otis rushed back to claim the 61-55 victory.
Demons and Trojans meet for the final time in 2010, and this time, Ridgway reigns
By the time they faced off on the court in the State Tournament’s Consolation Final, Ridgway and Ouray had already met four times this season. The Trojans had won three of those matches, and were primed to take their neighbors down one final time; this they established early in the game by climbing to an 11-point lead by halftime.
Yet Ridgway wasn’t ready to let this final game of the 2010 season get away from them that easily.
Brushing aside the disappointment carried over from the Final Four loss they suffered the day before, the Demons returned to the court in the second half with renewed focus.
“We finally remembered what we were playing for,” Demons coach Fouts said of his team’s second-half comeback.
Propelled by an on-fire Jake Coulter, the Demons slowly chipped away at the Ouray lead. The Trojans’ most brawny players Chris Blansett and Kenneth Wilson, meanwhile, found their way onto the bench in foul trouble, giving Ridgway another advantage. With Ridgway shooting 80 percent on their free throws, the Trojans soon found themselves behind with just minutes left on the game clock.
“Once they caught the lead we just couldn’t catch them,” Trojans’ coach Blennis said.
The Trojans had hoped to beat the school’s basketball record this season, set in 1988. They had to settle for a tie, finishing fourth in the State tournament after their 56-52 loss to their Ridgway rivals.
“Our neighbors took it… but, they are one of the best teams in the state!” Blennis said.
In the One-A State Tournament Final, Caliche went on to win the State Trophy after beating Otis 67-55. Ridgway’s Jake Coulter was named to the All-tournament team. Meanwhile, in the 2a state tourney, San Juan Basin League’s Ignacio made it to the Finals, ultimately losing to Holyoke 55-38.