Right after Dove Creek’s Nicholas Aragon’s third quarter three-pointer from the right wing ripped the cords, the sophomore let out a triumphant roar that drowned out even the loudest Bulldog cheers inside the Dolores Fieldhouse on Saturday.
The ‘Dogs had plenty of reasons to celebrate – seven, in fact – as Aragon’s triple built the visitors’ lead to 30-16 midway through the quarter on their sixth of seven three-pointers in the contest.
Down the stretch, Dolores closed the gap, but Dove Creek (7-10, 4-2 2A/1A SJBL) kept their cool and held off the hard-charging Bears with clutch free throws to earn a 48-42 road victory – keeping the Bulldogs right in the mix for a top two finish in the San Juan Basin League.
“It was intense, but a fun game to be a part of,” said Aragon after the win, “we kept our composure – we know that if we hadn’t, that game could have gone south – we didn’t let anything get to us.”
Five different Bulldogs canned shots from downtown, arguably their best perimeter shooting performance of the season, while topping their Four Corners rival for the second straight year.
“We’d been focusing on it in practice,” added Aragon of his team’s improved perimeter touch, “and it showed off today.”
Sophomore Josh Kibel scored in each of the four quarters, while adding a three-pointer of his own to the barrage, for a team-high 14 points for head coach Ian MacLaren’s squad. Kibel sparked an early run for Dove Creek, one in which the ‘Dogs jumped out to a 13-3 lead early in the second quarter.
The Bears (4-13, 0-7 2A/1A SJBL) responded on a run right before half, keyed by senior Mark Palate’s transition buckets, to close the gap to 23-16 at the intermission, but Dove Creek scored the first seven points of the third quarter to seize control again.
Senior Aiden Chadd buried a pair of corner three-pointers in the third quarter, as well, and the Bulldog defense made life difficult in the half-court for Dolores head coach Joel Balderrama’s offense. The Bears managed just two field goals in the third quarter, but chipped away to begin the fourth.
“We saw what they were giving to us on defense, so we were skipping some passes to the weak side and hit those threes, and it was working for everybody,” said Chadd of the good looks that the Bulldogs enjoyed all afternoon, “it was nice to have great ‘team ball’”.
Bear freshman Koby McClellan knocked in a three late in the third quarter, then Palate scored to begin the fourth to bring the margin to single digits. As both teams started attacking the basket more in the later stages, the contest shifted to a free throw shooting affair, where Dolores sophomore Michael Rantz made six tosses in the second half.
Junior Tray Traweek cut through the lane to feather in a floater, and all of a sudden, the Bulldog lead was shaved to two, 39-37, with three minutes left.
Bulldog junior Sheldon Gardner – the team’s leading scorer this season - would not to be denied, however, as the Bulldogs regained the upper hand with their own pressure-cooker free throws. Gardner put through four straight in the final minute, while the Bulldog defense closed out the win with several steals down the stretch.
“We slowed down some in the fourth quarter, and when they got close again, we realized we had to go back to the way we played at the beginning,” added Chadd, “but our team chemistry is way better now compared to the beginning of the season, and we know our roles and how to run the offense better, which helped us finish the game out.”
Gardner’s 11 points joined Kibel in double figures, while Aragon added eight, and Chadd posted six in the winning effort. Palate was the only double figure scorer for Dolores, totaling 18 points, followed by Traweek with seven.
With the win, Dove Creek sits poised to battle for the position as the top 1A team in the SJBL this season, with a showdown and potential revenge contest against Nucla (10-6, 5-2 2A/1A SJBL) coming up on Friday, Feb. 16 – a contest that will wrap up the regular season for Dove Creek. Dolores, meanwhile, looks forward to two more home games to cap the regular season. Their week begins with a rescheduled game against Ridgway on Tuesday, Feb. 13 - their “Purple Out” fundraiser for the Pawlicki family – followed by their rivalry game with Mancos on Feb. 16.