John Wright leads team with all-state performance
You can’t go wrong with a name like Wright, John Wright.
Heading into last weekend’s games, the Crested Butte Titans boys’ team was crushed by an illness of epidemic proportions running rampant through the school.
Starting players were rendered nearly useless as the team prepared for their biggest weekend of the regular season.
Or at least, tried to prepare.
Two wins would practically solidify the league title for the Titans with two weeks left to play. A loss, or even two, would leave the league title up for grabs between potentially three teams.
“I told the guys that either we’re going to be a true state contender, or just one of the teams battling for the league,” says coach Robin Loyed.
That said, it was time for senior all-state player John Wright to take control of the situation. In the end, that’s exactly what he did, with back-to-back games of scoring 30 or more points and pulling down 15 or more rebounds.
The first test for the Titans came Friday night as they traveled to Creede to face the Creede Miners.
The Miners gym is unsettlingly loud and with a packed house ramping up the energy, it’s nearly impossible for any team to leave that town with a win.
Add in the fact that the Miners were looking to avenge a loss to the Titans earlier in the season and it’s a recipe for a potential Titans disaster.
Beset by illness, including the loss of starting point guard sophomore Henry Linehan, Loyed opted to pull back on any full court pressure. Furthermore, while senior Robbie Holleran was able to play, Loyed felt he was unable, health-wise, to contain Creede’s leading scorer.
So, Loyed looked to Wright to run the show at both ends of the court, covering the Miner’s leading scorer and moving him to point guard in the second half to run the offense.
Creede’s defense did a good job of disrupting the Titans offense as the Miners took a three-point lead into halftime.
Loyed turned to his team and pointed out their job, no matter what the situation.
“I told them, we’re sick and struggling but you’re a great team and it’s time to suck it up and get it done,” says Loyed.
The Titans defense proceeded to take over the game in the third quarter, holding the Miners to just five points, while Wright continued to light it up from the perimeter.
The Titans built a 39-32 lead going into the fourth quarter and sealed the win with their spread offense as Holleran hit five of six free throws down the stretch for the 50-40 win.
Wright finished the game with 30 points and 15 rebounds while holding Creede’s leading scorer to a total of four points.
“He really dominated the game at both ends of the floor,” says Loyed.
Holleran added 11 points and pulled down 13 rebounds but it was defense that made the difference in the game.
“Any time you can hold them to 13 points in the second half, you’ve played a great defensive game,” says Loyed.
Their next big test came the following day as the Titans returned to Crested Butte to host the Primero Bulldogs on Saturday, January 31.
The Bulldogs gave the Titans a scare earlier in the season and combine speed with one of the best guards in the state.
Again, illness, coupled with an exhausting win the night before, had Loyed concerned prior to the match-up.
Primero’s speed and their guard proved too much for the Titans to handle defensively, given their state of fatigue.
Fortunately, after missing a couple of early shots, Wright found his rhythm to help keep the Titans in contention after their sluggish first half.
“In that first half, my worst fears came true,” says Loyed. “We had a serious discussion at halftime.”
The Titans opened the second half with a half-court trap on defense and a plan to push the ball inside on offense, and the two worked nearly flawlessly.
Wright spun through a triple team in the low post to score and then pulled up to drain a 14-foot jumper to open the second half. Holleran picked off two passes in the half-court trap for breakaway lay-ups as well, as the Titans jumped out to a 39-32 lead, forcing Primero to call a time-out to regroup.
The break offered little relief as the Titans continued to pressure on defense and execute on offense to build an 11-point lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
The Titans spread out on offense again to hold possession and kill the clock. Primero finally wised up to the ploy with a little more than two minutes left and fouled the Titans, forcing them to seal the game from the line.
While the team struggled from the line, Wright was near perfect, hitting five of six free throws in the closing 30 seconds for the 62-50 win.
Wright finished the game with 33 points and 16 rebounds, Holleran scored 19 and pulled down 15 boards, and senior Chris Sharpe drained 10 points and doled out seven assists.
“Our seniors really stepped up,” says Loyed. “Those were two tremendous wins.”
The Titans are now 14-0 with five games left to play. They will head to Mountain Valley on Friday, February 6 and then host Moffat on Saturday, February 7 at 2:30 p.m.