OURAY – Victory eluded Ouray’s varsity boys in Saturday’s Homecoming battle against the 2A Mancos Bluejays, but Trojan fans still found plenty to celebrate, as Ouray’s JV boys and varsity girls plucked the ’Jays and served up a pair of wins on a platter, 57-54 and 42-32.
These triumphs came on the heels of scrappy away-game victories for all three Ouray teams against 1A Dolores the previous night. It’s a style of play that Ouray varsity boys and girls coach Shawn Carroll has dubbed “Ugly-Ball” – all up and down the court with bodies flying – that leaves fans on the edge of their seats, guessing what the next moment, and the rest of the season, may have in store.
This is Carroll’s first season coaching the Ouray varsity boys, and his third with the girls – long enough to put some perspective on the girls’ back-to-back victories last weekend.
“I was very happy with tonight’s win,” he said after they beat Mancos. “That’s a huge win for us. It’s 2A, and it’s two wins in a row. Which doesn’t happen here a lot.”
The Lady Trojans’ battle against Dolores was a come-from-behind victory in the last five minutes of the fourth. “The last couple of years in that same situation they would have lost,” Carroll said. “They would have laid down and died.” Instead, they won, 69-63.
There are only seven players on the girls’ team – three juniors, one senior, a sophomore and two freshman – and junior Jackie Saunders is their not-so-secret weapon. She was among the top five 1A scorers in the state last year and has been living up to her reputation again this season, scoring, in Friday’s game, a whopping 32 points.
The Ouray boys’ varsity squad is a more mature team, with four seniors, including high scorer Clay Zimmerman, who was an All-Conference player last year and has been a big factor in this year’s play so far (although he had to sit out some early season play with a sprained ankle).
Both teams run one-on-one defense in a full-court press, while applying a dribble-drive attack strategy to their offensive play.
“We are looking to shoot the ball 100 times a game,” Carroll said. “We hope to run with both teams in fast-paced, high-scoring games that are fun to watch, and fun to play.”
It’s all based on the simple premise that it’s hard to guard a player with a ball when they’re going full steam. “We are continually attacking the rim over and over to get rid of help-side defense and either get a layup or a wide-open three,” Carroll said.
While Zimmerman is the undisputed “king of the threes,” the most memorable 3-pointer of the season so far came in Friday’s away game against Dolores, which the varsity boys won in overtime, 64-63, in a physical battle that saw them down by 2 with 4.4 seconds under Dolores’s basket.
After a hastily-called timeout to set up a play, sophomore Joey Fedel got the ball and drove the length of the court and hit 3 for a swish and a win, just as the buzzer went off.
Coach Carroll emphasized early in the season that the key for both teams this year will be learning to play as a team. At last Saturday’s Homecoming games, it was apparent that this focus on teamwork is starting to pay off.
“Last year, Mancos beat us by 40-plus points,” Carroll pointed out. “We can’t do it all at once; it’s a game by game kind of thing.”
AGE-OLD RIVALRY STILL FLOURISHING BETWEEN OURAY AND RIDGWAY
At midseason, Ouray’s varsity hoopsters are holding their own, and hitting their stride. The boys have a 5-5 overall win-loss record, and 0-4 in the San Juan Basin League, while the girls are 4-4 overall and 2-2 in league play. There are still 11 games to go in the regular season.
But for many parents, Carroll said, “there are only two games that matter, and they are both against Ridgway.”
That age-old rivalry between the Ouray Trojans and the Ridgway Demons was on full display at a home game in Ouray last Tuesday night, Jan. 21. It was the first time the two teams had faced off against each other this season.
“We are in different leagues, but in the parents’ and the kids’ minds, they are still the team to beat,” Carroll said.
Why does it still matter? Ridgway School’s recent growth spurt has reclassified it as 2A in the San Juan Basin League, while Ouray remains classified as 1A, so the two schools are no longer even district foes.
They have gone so far as to combine forces in a variety of other sports and activities, including soccer, cross-country, track and field, and speech. Kids from Ouray and Ridgway date each other. In the spring, they share a prom.
But on the basketball court, there is still a fiercely primal need to dominate.
The Ouray gym was filling up fast last Tuesday as the JV boys took to the court at 4 p.m. It was a one-sided game, to put it kindly. The Trojans trounced their foes.
Next, as the varsity girls faced off, it was Ridgway’s turn to shine. The Lady Demons quickly gained a 20-point advantage and held onto it for an easy victory despite the Ouray girls’ feisty efforts to stay in the game.
Then came the final matchup of the evening. Ouray’s varsity boys came on strong, pouring on the points in the first quarter. But the Demons had tied it up by half-time. In the second half, the game got fast, and wild, as the foes swapped leads.
With 4:25 left in the game, Ouray was down one point, 35-36. The gym pulsed with a cacophony of screaming fans and beating drums, as a “yell squad” comprised of OHS kids with orange-and-black-painted faces got the home-team crowd revved up. When the ref made a call that resulted in the Trojans’ lanky center, Caleb Preston, fouling out, several fans on the Ouray side rose to their feet, stabbing the air with their fingers in protest, even as Ridgway fans berated Preston for the seemingly flagrant foul.
The game was decided when Ridgway sophomore Eli Hagemeyer, little brother to the Demons’ towering 6’6” center Nathan Hagemeyer, hit a pair of threes in the corner. By the end of the battle, the Trojans were down by 10. Final score: 48-38.
Ridgway coach Jim Blennis found himself in a strange position, having coached Ouray’s varsity boys from 2008-2010, leading them to three district championships and two trips to state, and racking up an impressive win-loss record against the Demons.
Now, recently coaxed out of retirement to take a coaching position in Ridgway, the tables were turned. Blennis was plenty nervous for his new team’s prospects against the Trojans before the game.
“But the important thing is we caught ‘em,” he said in the game’s aftermath. “And then, once we caught ’em, we were alright. But still, it was a fight. Ouray fought us tooth and nail the whole way.”
Ouray sports fan and KURA radio commentator Nick Sustana said that to him, the Ouray/Ridgway basketball rivalry is fascinating because, “like most high school rivalries, it involves young men and women working hard and learning lessons that will help them as adults while at the same time their parents sit in the stands and typically devolve into screaming five-year-olds.”
The legendary Ridgway coach Steve Hill, who himself came out of retirement several years ago to once again coach the Ridgway girls, put a different spin on the matter.
“It’s just basketball,” he said.
The Trojans and Demons clash again on Ridgway’s court on Feb. 19.
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