Mustangs and Pirates pose problems for Titans hoops

“We can’t lose focus, we have a really good season going”

By Than Acuff 

The ingredients are all there for the Crested Butte Titans boys basketball team’s success. It’s just all the ingredients need to be mixing, or at least healthy, if they’re going to knock off the top teams.

That was clear this past week as the Crested Butte Titans fell to the Sanford Mustangs on Friday, February 2, and then fell short in their last-minute comeback effort against the Cotopaxi Pirates on Monday, February 5.

The league title would most likely come down to the Sanford/Crested Butte showdown and the Titans had never beaten Sanford, in Sanford, ever. 

It looked like they may have had the right mindset to break the Sanford curse when the game started Friday as three-pointers from Adin Kurak and Eli Hulm, two blocks by Weston Miller, four points from Porter Donohue and stifling defense paced Crested Butte to an 18-9 lead during a frantic first quarter.

“We were clicking on all cylinders and, as coaches, we weren’t surprised because we knew that’s what we’re capable of,” says coach Hannes Gehring.

The Mustangs slowed the Titans down to go on a 6-2 run to close within five points by the end of the first quarter, and then continued chipping away at Crested Butte forcing untimely errors to tie the game before Weston Miller slipped by two for a layup to put the Titans up 29-27 at halftime.

“The way we were playing it felt like we should have been up by more than two at halftime,” says Gehring. 

In classic high school basketball style, the Mustangs had their turn to roll as they opened the third quarter with an 11-0 run to go up 38-29 on the Titans. Crested Butte countered though as Riley Davis and Kurak both knocked down three-pointers, Miller scored four points in a row and the Titans scored again to open the fourth quarter to pull back to within three points.

But, given that two Titans were sick to the point of vomiting during the game and several others still in recovery and Miller fouled out, Crested Butte simply ran out of gas as Sanford outscored the Titans 19-3 down the stretch to win 65-46. Miller led the team with 17 points and eight rebounds while Kurak and Davis each scored 10 points.

“Overall, it came down to a general fatigue in the fourth quarter,” says Gehring. “We struggled with turning the ball over and it got extreme in the fourth quarter. Credit to Sanford, they played a sound game.”

Fortunately, while the Titans were scheduled to play the very next day, the game was postponed giving them a little more time to recover before facing Cotopaxi on Monday, February 5. Cotopaxi always plays Crested Butte tough and brought their toughness and game plan to Mt. Olympus to make for a full game knockdown, drag out battle.

All the individual ingredients appeared to be mixing well on offense with points coming from four different Titans, including Luke Jennings who hit two three-pointers. But Cotopaxi had some height inside and talent on the perimeter and had answers for everything Crested Butte dished out. 

Miller was in the trenches all half against their two bigs and still found ways to score, but suffered a thumb injury and had to step off the court for most of the second quarter. The Pirates made a small run midway through the second quarter, but the Titans ended the half on a high note when a last-second shot by Jennings missed the mark, but Donohue followed to tip in the ball at the buzzer closing the Pirates’ lead to three points.

The game ramped up in the third quarter as the teams were trading punches through it all. Cotopaxi would steal a pass and score, but the Titans would respond as Davis and Miller found some success in the paint amongst the trees. The Pirates then looked to the perimeter for success and knocked down three-pointers only to have Crested Butte respond as Donohue hit two and Kurak one from behind the arc.

After pulling to within two points at the start of the fourth quarter, the game started to slip away from the Titans as Cotopaxi built a 57-46 lead with two minutes left.

“We just had extremely uncharacteristic breakdowns,” says Gehring. “There were multiple moments when we gave them easy points.”

Miller was back though and proceeded to score nine points in a row, and when Kurak stole an inbounds pass and scored, the Titans had pulled to within one with 30 seconds to play.

Continued pressure and a foul sent Cotopaxi to the line, and they knocked down one free throw for a 59-57 lead, but Miller scored again and it was all tied up with six seconds left.

It looked like the Titans had them trapped on the ensuing inbounds but a foul was called and the Pirate shooter hit one of his two free throws for the 60-59 win. Miller scored 21 points, Kurak 11 and Donohue and Davis scored 10 points each.

“We had a lot of errors that we don’t tend to make, and those little things added up to big things,” says Gehring. “We also missed some free throws down the stretch which hurt us.”

While back-to-back losses can hurt, the Titans are still 10-4 overall, 4-1 in league play and sit in second place as they face Ridgway and then host Del Norte in mighty Mt. Olympus on Friday, February 9 at 7 p.m.

“Sometimes you need something like this, it’s a little wake up call,” says Gehring. “We can’t lose focus, we have a really good season going.”

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