Injuries leave team scrambling to rebuild
by Than Acuff
It was a rough finish for the Crested Butte Titans boys’ basketball team in 2017. Coach Brandin Hamilton looked to have all of the right pieces in place for the team to build early and then thrive late in the season.
Then disaster struck, as they lost starters Tommy Linehan and Michael Winn to injury in their second to last game of 2017, leaving Hamilton and the team to rework some things while continuing their efforts on others.
“Our focus was on limiting turnovers, rebounding and then, within that, giving them some new options on offense, how to handle pressure with the new line-up—it just goes on and on,” explains Hamilton.
The Titans’ changes in personnel and game plan got their first test when they hosted the Creede Miners in Mt. Olympus on Friday, January 5. The game opened well enough for the Titans as they took a 5-2 lead paced by a steal and lay-up and a three-pointer from Joseph Cummins. The rest of the first quarter was a dogfight as the two teams traded buckets the rest of the way. Ty Sherman pulled down an offensive board and scored, Ethan Bacani buried a three-pointer and Josh Merck stripped the ball off a Miner and scored, but Creede had an answer for everything and then some as they finished the first quarter up 15-13.
Triston Davis lit a small fire for the Titans to open the second quarter scoring four quick points to put the Titans back in the lead but Creede responded with an 8-0 run to go back on top 23-17. Davis ran end-to-end for two more but Creede answered back with a three-pointer and looked to close strong until Toby Goldberg drained a 14-foot jumper at the buzzer to end the half on a high note.
“Overall I was happy with where we were,” says Hamilton. “We couldn’t shoot the ball, we were cold as a team, but we were rebounding as I wanted us to. At halftime I focused on getting them to limit their turnovers.”
Rebounding was the name of the game to open the third quarter as Creede scored six points to open, four of them after grabbing offensive rebounds.
The Titans closed the third quarter with a small run as Jovany Aguirre hit one from three-point range, Dante Marchitelli put up two points in the paint and Cummins finished off a three-point play but Creede held the Titans at arm’s length to maintain a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
While the Titans were well within comeback range, shots missed the mark while Creede hit Crested Butte hard with an early three-pointer and crashing the boards to dominate rebounds and get second and third chances to score. The combination had Creede outscoring the Titans 21-13 in the fourth quarter to seal the Titans’ fate 60-42. Cummins finished the game leading the Titans with 14 points.
“In the first half they were just sending two to the boards but they started sending three, sometimes four, in the second half and we didn’t adjust,” says Hamilton. “In general our 2-3 defense did fine, they were just getting second and third chances and we just don’t have enough firepower consistently.”
The Titans hit the road on Saturday, January 6 to take on the Sanford Indians. The Indians have been state champions the past couple of years and while a lot of their players from those title teams have graduated, they still remain a force to deal with.
“They’re senior-heavy and just play good, hard-nosed defense,” says Hamilton.
Despite the odds against the Titans, Crested Butte went toe-to-toe with Sanford through the first half. After falling behind 6-0 in the first quarter, the Titans outscored Sanford 10-4 in the second quarter, leaving the teams tied 10-10 heading into halftime.
“We took the crowd completely out of the game,” says Hamilton.
But Sanford made adjustments and they picked up the pace in the second half to make up for their slow start. Sanford outscored the Titans 20-5 in the third quarter to put the game out of reach and then cruised through the fourth quarter to seal the 45-22 win over the Titans. Aguirre led the Titans in Sanford scoring 11 points.
“They ramped up the intensity and we just couldn’t hold on,” says Hamilton.
Despite the two losses, Hamilton did like what he saw from players called to action over the weekend and the team continues to forge on without the two starters.
“I think they’re doing a great job of stepping in and every practice is positive and I’m seeing improvements,” says Hamilton. “But we still have a long way to go. Our goal hasn’t changed for the season. We still want to be a tough team come the district tourney.”
The Titans return to the road this weekend as they face Cripple Creek on Friday, January 12 and then South Park on Saturday, January 13.
Typically both opponents sit at the bottom of the league but their game has improved over the past couple of years and Hamilton sees the weekend as a chance to see how the Titans stack up overall.
“We’ve got to make sure we stay ahead of those teams and we’ll learn a lot about where we may finish in the standings,” says Hamilton. “The games aren’t going to be pushovers—they’re going to be grinds.”