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Tight-knit Bears battling to the end

Dolores seniors Vance McDonnell and Michel Millard box out for a rebound in a game against Telluride at DHS. (Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal)
Dolores sending off seniors with team effort

With the 2022-23 season winding down, the Dolores boys basketball team has left its fan base imagining the possibilities.

n Day 1 of the season, the Bears fielded a squad with virtually no varsity level experience – and with the growing pains that developed cohesion on the court, the Bears are looking like a veteran squad, just in time for a large group of seniors to bid farewell.

The Bears (1-15, 0-7 2A/1A SJBL) compiled one of their best efforts of the season in an energetic performance on Senior Night against Telluride, pushing the Miners for three quarters before falling 60-42.

A full house of Bears faithful clad in black and red celebrated eight seniors in their penultimate home game, bringing an energy that would jolt the Bears to a high-octane start.

Dolores senior Triston Scott slashes to the rim in a game against Telluride at DHS.Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal
DHS sophomore Trayton Traweek takes the ball into the lane in a game against Telluride at DHS.Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal
Dolores head coach Joel Balderrama and the DHS bench survey the scene in a game against Telluride. Ben Bradley/Special to The Journal

The visitors, however, also fed off the arena’s energy, scorching the nets in a 12-2 run to end the first quarter for a 24-12 lead through eight minutes.

After harnessing their intensity in the quarter break, the Bears returned to the floor for some of the their most purposeful basketball of the season, controlling the game at both ends in a brilliant second quarter. Seniors Jairett West, Michel Millard and Triston Scott each scored in the period, while classmates Vance McDonnell and Dylan Rantz provided stifling defense against the Miner interior game, limiting Telluride to only three points in the quarter.

Junior Mark Palate scored six straight points in an 11-2 run that closed out the first half with the Bears right back in the game, down 27-25 at the intermission.

The hosts continued their rally into the third quarter, tying the game on a basket from sophomore Trayton Traweek, signaling that the Bears weren’t going to fade away.

On Senior Night, it was a visiting senior – Telluride’s Tony Ordonez – who also enjoyed one of his last regular season games, shifting the tide back to Telluride (9-7, 5-3 2A/1A SJBL) with big buckets to restore the Telluride lead.

Millard diced through the lane, flipping up an acrobatic runner to cut the deficit to 37-33 in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.

Then, Ordonez took over – cashing in primarily from the free throw line while pouring in eight of his game-high 21 points to build the lead to double digits. Traweek’s step-back three-pointer pulled Dolores back to down seven, 43-36, but it would be as close as the hosts would get the rest of the night.

Head coach Joel Balderrama’s squad fought to the end, leaving the Bears’ skipper proud of the collective effort on a bittersweet Senior Night. “I thought it was some of the best basketball we’ve played all season,” reflected Balderrama. “We were moving our feet on defense and executed on offense.”

Millard scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half, keeping the hosts in the game until the last few minutes, showing his ability to score either attacking the rim or from the perimeter.

“He (Michel) has been so committed this year,” said Balderrama of his senior leading scorer. “He was in the gym right after football season ended, working on ball handling, shooting, defense, you name it.”

Traweek also broke into double figures with 11 points, while Palate added eight and Scott finished with five. Telluride’s Grayson Berry scored 13 points to complement Ordonez’ big night.

One thing has never changed, even with the challenges and growing pains of the adjustment to the varsity level – the connection on and off the court for the Bears.

“They’re a close group of guys,” added the Bear head coach, “and they’re able to support each other so we don’t get too high or too low. Especially since we started in a rough place, beginning the year with basically a whole new varsity team – they’ve been coachable, they’re hardworking, and they’ve been able to have fun because of that bond.”

Jaiden Smith-Sabido, Charlie Millard and Keegan Heaton rounded out the octet of Bear seniors receiving recognition, with one more home game on the horizon – a Saturday, Feb. 18 meeting with Creede. In the meantime, the Bears still have a pair of league games to contend on the road, facing Dove Creek (Feb. 11) and Mancos (Feb. 17) on the road. Both of those encounters will be available to listeners on radio station 98.7 FM KRTZ and on krtzradio.com.