GREELEY – Seeing a Caprock Academy player named Jordan, appropriately wearing jersey No. 23, break free for a vicious two-hand dunk midway through the first quarter could have easily demoralized Dove Creek’s boys Friday on the second day of the 2022 CHSAA Class 1A State Championships.
But exhausted after their 62-52 loss to the Great Eight’s top-seeded squad, the No. 8 Bulldogs weren’t about to stand down – particularly after Caprock senior Andrew Jordan, ironically, was lost to an injured right leg with 2:33 still left in the consolation-bracket semifinal’s initial eight minutes.
“We knew that against Caprock it was going to be a hard battle after yesterday,” said DCHS head coach Aaron Hankins. “But, hey, we don’t know who’s going to be the champions – maybe (Blanca-based No. 1 seed) Sierra Grande’s not the champions, maybe it’s going to be someone else – so we battled them hard.”
“I mean, Sierra Grande was a super-tough team; we game-planned for them, knew that we were going to get them,” he said. “So you know we came out and gave it a 110%, and obviously today that hurt us a little bit.”
Unable to capitalize fully on Jordan’s exit with the No. 4 Eagles up 16-6 at that moment, Dove Creek saw the gap expand to 21-8 by the end of the first, but closed it to 25-18 in the second via a baseline jumper by junior guard Kade Hankins, already locked in a scoring race with Grand Junction-based Caprock senior Jonathon Abshear.
In fact, Abshear would log all 10 of Caprock’s second-quarter points, upping his own count to 19, while Hankins’ half-dozen upped his growing total to 14 by the time intermission arrived and the Eagles rebuilt their lead to 31-20.
“You know, we’ve played tough teams all year; down in our league there’s a bunch of good teams,” said Bulldog senior point guard Chorbin Cressler. “Takes a whole lot of effort, and you just have to have the right attitude. Last night was a long game, used a lot of hustle and heart, and we just tried today the best we could.”
When it became clear neither Hankins nor Abshear could really be stopped as the sides strove to save their season, each crew began looking for another individual to step up. And while Caprock – upset 66-58 on Day 1 by No. 5 McClave – recognized senior Dove Creek post Ryan Jarmon as a threat, the Bulldogs struggled to leash senior Caprock Hayden McDonald, who began the third quarter with a three-pointer after a Dove Creek turnover.
The Bulldogs responded with a 7-0 burst highlighted by a Hankins trey and a Jarmon block at the other end, but McDonald countered with another well-timed triple. And when Abshear booked nine of Caprock’s next 11 points, Dove Creek went into the final frame trailing 48-33.
Emptying his fuel tank, Hankins drilled two more threes and three of four free throws, but with McDonald going 5 of 6 at the charity stripe and Abshear netting his last two baskets, the Eagles maintained a comfortable lead until time expired with the Bank of Colorado Arena at Butler-Hancock Athletic Center scoreboard reading Caprock 65, Dove Creek 49.
All told, Abshear racked up a game-high 32 points and Hankins 30, while McDonald recorded a vital 16 points and Jarmon five. Thanks to a fourth-quarter three-ball, Cressler ended up with six points as DCHS’ No. 3 scorer, one-upping the five of Caprock senior Jessup Watts (who’d gotten the game underway with a trey).
“We’ve been talking all year how we can’t have one or two guys; we’ve got to have the ‘team’ effort,” Aaron Hankins said. “You know, we got here through ‘team’ effort but in some games; it was just … some of the guys couldn’t get going. And if one guy takes it off, we can’t win that way.”
Dove Creek finished a most-memorable 2021-22 campaign standing 13-12 overall; Caprock Academy improved to 21-3 with a fifth-place finish the next morning still possible.
“It’s definitely an amazing feeling that we made it here,” said Cressler. “A lot of people didn’t think we were going to make it – and playing Belleview (Christian, at regionals), thought we were going to lose, get blown out of the water. … We had a lot of dedication, took it to ’em; I’m proud of us.”
“This was historic, and I’d been telling these guys all week: Enjoy this whole week – this ‘party’ while we’re here – and remember it for the rest of your lives!” Aaron Hankins stated. “It might be 50 years from now before this happens again.”