Sparked by junior guard/forward Townes Merritt’s 14-point eruption during the second quarter, Telluride’s boys proceeded to battle vaunted Mancos evenly for the final 24 regulation minutes Friday night.
And not just evenly, but dead-evenly: 19-19 in the second, 15-15 in the third, and despite junior center/forward Grayson Berry fouling out with 3:30 still remaining, 11-11 in the fourth and final frame.
But like any number of vehicles throughout Montezuma County struggling to start during the day, the visiting Miners couldn’t get going on the road early, and ultimately lost an exciting 2A/1A San Juan Basin League battle 68-51.
“We knew this would be a tough game — they were 3-0 in league play — and it helps us out a lot,” said MHS head coach Dusty Veach. “Our boys played tough, because Telluride’s a tough team. They’re bigger than us, they’re as fast as us, and they’re strong and smart. They know what they’re doing.”
And with THS having reportedly squeaked out a triple-OT win in the junior-varsity game, held in the adjacent gym, the Blue Jays’ best clearly sensed they’d have to bring the guests’ energy down … and fast. Fortunately, they got the start they sought; a three-pointer by junior Brian Veach, plus an inside basket by Kaiden Wyatt and two Andrew Jaime free throws, had Mancos up 7-0 just 1:56 into the contest, and Telluride skipper Yana Pollard quickly used a timeout.
Unluckily, MHS (7-4 overall, 2-0 SJBL, 1-0 2A SJBL) kept ticking along and grew their lead to 11-0 before Miner junior Jay Ellison nailed a three with 3:54 to go. He’d drain another just 35 seconds later, but the Jays closed out the quarter on a 12-0 run capped by Veach’s second trey and a baseline drive to the hoop by junior Chris Medina just before the buzzer.
“I thought our defense could have been way better, especially one-on-one. I think we gave them just a little too many open shots and lanes to the bucket; players that we should have been able to stop, we didn’t,” Pollard said. “We need to improve how we match up defensively, and grind. Especially with a team like this.”
Though Veach never truly cooled, totaling an injurious six triples and a game-high 28 points, THS (6-5, 3-1, 2-1) fared comparatively well against MHS’ supporting cast despite closing to within 10 points just once, at 34-25 prior to Medina hitting one of three FTs with 1:51 left in the second quarter.
Wyatt finished with 12 points, but eight came during the first half as the Miners, senior Tony Ordonez in particular, were able to better contain the burly sophomore and somewhat break MHS’ inside-outside balance. Jaime, another junior on a senior-less roster, finished with 11 points and Medina totaled seven, helped by 5-of-7 free-throw shooting.
“We have a lot of young guys that are playing their best. I can’t ask for any more than that,” said Dusty Veach, alluding to freshmen Darren Daves and Cory Carver, each of whom chipped in five points. “I mean, we are just really focused … and as a team they really wanted it.”
Merritt paced Telluride with 18 points, junior Cash Livermore made two threes and totaled 12 points — all during the second half — and Ellison recorded three treys and totaled 10 points. Berry and Ordonez each scored five, and Sam Herman one.
“He did give us a little spark there that we needed,” said Pollard, referring to Livermore’s effort as the Blue Jays began hawking Merritt more and more. “And — I’m not sure if he knows this — but he’s a great shooter. I was waiting for him to get his shot off, and he did. He’s got some flair on defense, too.
“I think we stuck with the three too much,” Pollard noted, “and forgot that we could attack the rim. But they come to us next time. And our guys bounce back really well. We’ve been working on holding each other accountable, and I think moments like these … they tend to snap back into it, focus and work harder.”
Up next, THS will continue league play traveling to Nucla (3-6, 1-2 SJBL, 1-1 1A SJBL) Thursday. The rematch with Mancos is presently set for Feb. 4 inside the MinerDome.