Telluride, after finishing as District Runners-Up, went to last weekend’s Regional Tournament brimming with the hope that their State Tournament dreams would be realized. The team started strong on Friday, winning their first regional game against Rocky Ford 48-54. But the Miners lost steam in the finals, falling to Sanford 44-52.
“At that time of year, the goal is to keep moving forward and hope you play better in the next game than you did in the last,” said THS boys basketball coach Mike Hughes. “But unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Versus Rocky Ford on Friday, the Miners maintained the lead throughout the closely matched game. While Rocky Ford made stabs at closing the gap, the Miners – piloted by the 22-point scoring Mike Matthews – persevered to the end.
“Michael was terrific against Rocky Ford, with Ian [MacCracken] and Jarred [Brown] doing some good things as well… everyone else played their role, keeping everything together in a game that was packed with emotion and energy. Going onto someone else’s floor and getting a win is tough,” Hughes said, noting however that the Friday match-up “wasn’t their best game.”
The Miners needed to play their best game on Saturday if they were to have any hope of getting around State Tournament-tested Sanford. At the end of the first period, Telluride was down by just one point, 11-12. The Miners kept it close through the half, thanks in part again to the game’s high-scorer Matthews (with 19 points in the game) and key plays on defense from MacCracken and Kevin Doody.
Sanford widened the gap by 12 by the end of the third, but Telluride again battled hard to catch their contenders. The Miners cut Sanford’s lead to four with just minutes left in the match. But the boys struggled to carry their comeback momentum long enough, losing steam at the end of the match.
“They kept it close enough, but down the stretch couldn’t get themselves out of a bad streak,” Hughes said.
And while the teams may have appeared evenly matched on the court, Hughes admits there was one major difference between the two squads – a difference that likely cost the Miners the win.
“Our kids fought hard, but Sanford’s mental toughness really gave them the edge,” Hughes explained of the finals pairing. “They went into that game knowing they were going to win – we went in hoping we would win. That’s a big difference in psychology.”
Sanford had been to the State Tournament many times, having won the Regional Finals before. That history was a deciding factor in the Saturday game, which marked the end of a spectacular season for the Telluride Miners.
The Regional game was also the last outing for senior starters Matthews, MacCracken, and Carl Schroedl, three team leaders who are largely to thank for the team’s successes this season.
“Those kids have given us a foundation to build on. They proved that the amount of time they spent in the gym was related to how much they could improve… that was always on their own time. They were never asked. They came in to play because they wanted to improve. What will the next group do? That’s the question. I hope that all the hard work and effort and desire to excel that these guys put in is not a flash in the pan. I hope the younger kids see how they can get it done,” Hughes said of the fierce fighting Senior threesome, who will graduate this spring.
While the 2008-09 basketball season was one of the best and brightest in school history, Hughes admits that loading the bus to come home after the Regionals loss last weekend was bittersweet. “I was sad for them. It’s sad to see it end. There were so many great memories, and great moments, and that was the only chance this group had,” he says. But while the team may not have brought home a State Tournament pennant, what they did bring home this season is an energy and a buzz about Miner basketball. They revived their hometown’s pride in high school sports, a gift that will hopefully live beyond this single season.
“How do you thank a group of kids for what they’ve brought back to their school?” Hughes asks. “It’s beyond words.”
Telluride rivals Ignacio, who bumped the Miners out of the #1 spot at the Divisional Tournament, went on to win both Regional games last weekend, against La Veta and Plateau Valley. The Bobcats are set to play Heritage Christian in the upcoming State Tournament.