“I’d say, overall, it was our best half of the season”
by Than Acuff
While the Crested Butte Titans boys basketball team lost both games this past weekend, there was something different about them and it looks as if they may be turning a corner for the final stretch of the regular season.
“We came out and played with confidence and played determined,” says coach Brandin Hamilton. “Everything we did was who we are.”
Unfortunately, it took until the second half of their game against Cotopaxi on Friday, January 25 before they found their identity.
Poor shooting, erratic playmaking and an opponent with a dominant 6-foot-6 player left the Titans down 21-10 at the close of the first half.
“We were totally ice-cold shooting and our offense was out of sync and afraid to take on their six-foot-six guy,” says Hamilton.
Seeing what was happening on the floor, Hamilton made an adjustment at halftime and went with a new line-up—and the move made all of the difference in the world.
“I knew we had this line-up but it was a line-up that hadn’t seen many minutes the whole year,” says Hamilton. “But I knew if we stayed the same, we didn’t have a chance.”
The move had an immediate impact as the Titans outscored Cotopaxi 14-9 in the third quarter and continued to chip away at Cotopaxi into the fourth quarter. The Titans offense continued to gain confidence in the fourth quarter, scoring 20 points, but Cotopaxi’s top player remained a threat and another player stepped out of nowhere to knock down three pointers as the Titans eventually fell 46-44.
“We were playing with more consistent rhythm on offense and played like we could score every time we were heading down the floor,” says Hamilton. But we never really had an answer for the six-foot-six kid and there didn’t seem like there was a way to lock Cotopaxi up consistently.”
Ethan Bacani had a breakout game on both sides of the ball, causing trouble on defense and scoring 18 points.
“That was great to see and good for us,” says Hamilton. “It was nice to see him find his game.”
The Titans carried that second half energy from the Cotopaxi game into their showdown with the Sargent Farmers on Saturday, January 26. The Farmers are on a quest this year for a state title and are ranked 12th in the state, including a big win over Sanford, a team the Titans just lost to a week prior.
Nevertheless, the Titans had found themselves in Cotopaxi and maintained their new look against Sargent.
“We came ready for it,” says Hamilton. “We came out and played with confidence and played determined.”
Every Titan was clicking and producing as Ty Sherman, Josh Merck, Jovany Aguirre, Murphy Smith and Bacani all scored in the first quarter and the team crashed the boards to gather loose balls and finish the quarter up 14-13.
The Farmers opened the second quarter with a 6-0 run and it looked like that would be it for the Titans but they battled back again. Eric Wasinger drove through traffic to score, Juneau Barr pulled down an offensive rebound and scored, and when Bacani and Aguirre both knocked down three pointers, the two teams were locked in a 30-30 tie at halftime.
“I’d say, overall, it was our best half of the season,” says Hamilton. “We had confidence, a new offensive rhythm and all of the things we’d been working on this season were there. The big question was if we could play defense with the smaller line-up and we proved we can.”
Then, just one minute into the third quarter may have been the best minute of Titans basketball all season so far. It all started with a three-pointer from Tommy Linehan, followed by a three from Wasinger and a jumper from Aguirre. On Sargent’s next trip up the floor, Nico Marchitelli stole the ball, dished it to Wasinger, who found Aguirre sprinting up court with a pinpoint pass. Aguirre made a quick touch pass to Barr headed to the hoop and Barr laid it in to put the Titans up 40-35.
“That gave me the chills,” says Hamilton. “Those guys have always had it. It was just a matter of putting it together.”
The Titans kept chugging along and while Sargent showed why they are one of the top teams in the state, Crested Butte kept pace with them to take a four-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Then things started to unravel for the Titans. Linehan got hurt, players started getting tired and it became apparent that the Titans were playing to not lose instead of to win. Sargent’s big guy got hot in the middle, their perimeter players started knocking down shots and the Farmers dodged the upset and escaped from Mt. Olympus with a 62-55 win.
“Offensively we lost focus and stopped being aggressive as a unit,” says Hamilton. “We reverted some.”
Aguirre led the Titans with 13 points, Wasinger added in 11 and Bacani scored nine, with a couple more players scoring seven points each.
“I feel like we’re playing with a new confidence right now,” says Hamilton. “If we’re able to play that brand of basketball, we’re able to compete with anybody.”
The Titans hit the road on Saturday, February 2 for a rematch with Sanford.