The coach and players of Canyon Del Oro High School basketball weren’t surprised, nor did they panic, when the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter.
In fact, late starts have become a bad habit for the Dorados – one they’re working to remedy under first-year head coach Kelan Williams.
“It seems to be a history with the school and players,” said Williams. “We start late a lot. What I told the players tonight was that in order for us to get the win, we needed to get out to an early start.”
Still, the Dorados were a bit sluggish early on, trailing Ironwood Ridge by as much as seven points with two minutes remaining in the first quarter, thanks largely to the Nighthawks’ Mitch Lightfoot, who had seven points and a blocked shot.
Down 15-12 at the end of the first, the Dorados began to show signs of resistance.
Point guard Nico Hughes hit a running jumper to put the Dorados within one point, and Jasper Roberson-Schultz followed that up with a three-pointer to give CDO its first lead of the game at 17-15.
Hughes continued the push for the Dorados, scoring a 10-foot jumper and then stealing the ball in the next possession before being fouled and sent to the line, where he hit both free throws.
Ty Ochse added four points for CDO in the second quarter, and the Dorados managed to narrowly maintain their lead at 29-27 heading into halftime.
There would be no slow start for CDO leading into the second half. Led by Ochse and Hughes, the Dorados outscored the Nighthawks 19-4 in the third quarter. Ochse scored seven points, but his effort under the basket proved just as valuable.
“It was Ty Ochse,” said Williams about the Dorados’ big third quarter. “It was his ability to get to the offensive glass that made a difference for us. Once he started setting the tone, we noticed everyone else follow suit.”
Ochse said he was simply doing what he tries to do every game – be a leader.
“I try to lead the team by doing my best and playing my hardest,” he said. “When I do that, my teammates emulate me and follow my footsteps. But, when they do something wrong, I always correct their mistakes, and always tell them what they can do better next time.”
Hughes finished the third quarter with two more steals, and the Dorados found themselves sitting with a comfortable 48-31 lead with one quarter to go.
But, perhaps they were a little too comfortable with the very young Ironwood Ridge team.
The Nighthawks’ Trevor Cotton had unfinished business. Cotton came up with a block and converted on the offensive end to open all scores. In the next possession, he found space to drive, making the lay-up, collected the foul, and hit the free throw. Two jump shots and a steal later, Cotton had almost single-handedly closed the Nighthawks’ deficit to a six-point game, at 54-48 with under two minutes remaining.
Addison Adelberg then hit a three-footer to make it a two-possession game and send the Nighthawks’ fans into their ritual “I believe that we will win” chant.
The deficit was cut to three points when a foul sent the Nighthawks’ Michael Neufeldt to the line, where he added a free throw.
Williams wasn’t surprised to see the Nighthawks put together a comeback.
“We expected something like that,” he said. “The counter to that was trying to understand what level they were coming from with their approach. I can’t really say what we did to adjust worked, but the guys figured it out and continued to make plays.”
With 55.4 seconds left, the Nighthawks trailed 54-51. The two teams would exchange fouls and possession, but neither would score until Hughes hit two free throws with 11.8 seconds left to give CDO a 56-51 advantage.
On the opposite end, Ironwood Ridge’s Michael Volk was then fouled and sent to the line. He made both free throws to put the Nighthawks back within three. Forced to foul, the Nighthawks again sent Hughes to the line, where he went two for two to secure a 58-53 lead, where the game would stay after the short clock ran out on the Nighthawks.
Williams said the age and experience of his team was a factor in the outcome.
“I think (their age) did hurt them a little bit,” said Williams, referring to the fact Ironwood Ridge only has one senior on its roster. “Coach (Brian) Peabody is a great coach, and I know he knows how to coach the team no matter what type of talent he has, so yes, it gave us a little bit of an advantage, but not much, as you can tell.”
Ochse said if the team can break its bad habit of starting late, he is optimistic about the season.
“We just have to pick it up earlier,” he said. “If we can win every quarter in the first three minutes, we can potentially have a run at state.”
Ochse finished with a double-double, with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Hughes added five steals and 12 points.
The Dorados improve to 4-3 and next face Salpointe Catholic.
The Nighthawks fall to 3-6 and face Flowing Wells on Friday.