Yuma boys seek first title since 1981
Unselfish. Sharing. Togetherness.
All are apt descriptions of the Yuma High School boys basketball team.
It took a lot of work by coach Dave Sheffield and his staff to get the players to that point, but it sure has paid off in a big way.
“They’ve come together,” Sheffield said. “They’ve weathered different storms, and it’s great to see. They really are playing together. They’re playing selflessly.”
The talented and deep Indians are 22-2 and the second overall seed in the Class 2A State Basketball Tournament, today through Saturday in the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland. (That also is the location of the last state tournament game in which Sheffield coached, leading the Hi-Plains Patriots to an exciting 52-51 win over Caliche in the 2014 1A championship game.)
The Indians open state play at 10:15 a.m. against the Ellicott Thunderhawks. It will be the program’s first state tournament game since 2013.
Yuma now has won 18 straight, its last loss coming in overtime to the Chase County Longhorns in Imperial, Nebraska, in December. The Indians rolled past Swallows Charter, 67-33, last Friday, then Evangelical Christian, 59-31, on Saturday to claim the 2A Region 2 title and punch their ticket to the Great 8.
The Indians’ big season follows two consecutive losing records, including a frustrating season last year in which the Indians were on the cusp but could never quite break through in a LPAA that was loaded with talented seniors. The league ended up with three of the top five in 2A — Holyoke beating Sedgwick County for the championship, and Akron taking fifth.
This year, the Indians are the only LPAA team in the Great 8. Sedgwick County came the closest to joining them, but blew a fourth-quarter lead last Saturday in a loss at Sanford. (Haxtun and Akron were knocked out on Friday.)
“Last year, even though we had a lot of juniors, we were a young team as this group had only one summer under its belt” Sheffield said. “Now we’ve had two and I think last summer was the best since I’ve been here…I like our group.”
It also helps that 6-foot-7 junior Jake Chrisman is back in the lineup after missing last season due to injury. (In a more recent injury-related update, senior Jesus Vasquez has been cleared to play this week after missing the past two weeks due to an emergency appendectomy.)
Still, this is a team that has finally discovered the value of playing together, putting team before self. So what finally helped the Indians turn the corner?
“Success does it,” Sheffield said. “Play a game or two like that, you see what the road map is, and then it’s easy to follow.”
Ellicott is 15-9 and enters state as the seventh seed. The Thunderhawks started slowly, sitting at 3-6 after a loss to Evangelical Christian on January 13. They finished fourth in a balanced Black Forest League, but kept improving and ended up winning the District 8 Tournament, then beating Sargent and Calhan last weekend in regional.
“They’re playing better basketball as the season has progressed,” Sheffield said. “They have good size and athletic guards.”
Also on Yuma’s side of the bracket are third-seed Byers and sixth-seed Ignacio. Those two meet at 1:15 p.m. after the Yuma girls play Ignacio, which comes right after the Yuma-Ellicott game.
The Indians are in state for the first time in five years thanks to dominating performances last weekend in The Pit.
Given a chance to play two more in the beloved gym after winning the District 2 title, the Indians took full advantage of the friendly confines.
After watching Evangelical Christian hold off Dawson earlier in the day, the Indians took the floor in the day’s final game against Swallows Charter Academy. It was the first-ever regional appearance for the relatively-new school in Pueblo West.
None of the current Yuma players had played in regional, either, but already had experienced plenty of success this season and took it to Swallows Charter early. Scoring inside and out, the Tribe raced out to a 22-5 lead. The score was 36-11 at halftime.
The Indians continued to knock down 3-pointers, as well get the ball inside for close baskets, as they built a 58-22 lead in the third quarter.
“It was a good experience for Swallows Charter,” Sheffield said. “They were excited. This was the first time they were in regional. Our size was just too much for them.”
The Indians held a 37-18 rebounding advantage, and had 21 assists and 15 steals. Swallows Charter committed 24 turnovers, while Yuma had 15. The Indians shot 50 percent, including 53 percent on 2-pointers. They had a good day behind the arc, also, making seven of 16 3-pointers (43.8 percent)
Diego Covarrubias led in the assists department with seven, while Victor Mendoza had four along with six steals, Connor Hixon three, Chrisman three, and Chadron Coffield two. Chrisman made 10 of 15 shots, including a rare 3-pointer, finishing with 23 points and nine rebounds. Mendoza had 14 points and three rebounds, Steven Wells 10 points (making all three of his 3-point attempts), Chase McCreath seven points and five rebounds, Hixon six points, Covarrubias three points and six rebounds, Rolando Caraveo two points and one rebound, Coffield one point and two rebounds, Bryan Mendez three rebounds, Jonathan Rascon one point and one assist, and Preston Blach one steal.
The Indians then met Evangelical Christian in Saturday’s regional final.
The Eagles from Colorado Springs hung close in the early going as the teams were tied 7-7, and Chrisman went to the bench with two early fouls.
However, the Indians scored the last six points of the first quarter. A Hixon 3-pointer and two inside hoops by Chrisman put them ahead 20-7. The onslaught continued as Yuma scored 23 straight points, leading 30-7, before ECA scored again.
The Indians led 33-9 at halftime.
“Our guys did a great job,” Sheffield said. Noting the Indians did not miss a beat when Chrisman went to the bench, he added, “It’s a nice luxury having two bigs in there. Defensively, we obviously want Jake to be our primary post defender, but we can go to others if we have to rotate.”
Yuma made sure not to give the Eagles any hope in the second half. Mendoza’s 3-pointer put Yuma ahead 45-14 and prompted another timeout by ECA. The Indians kept the lead around 30 the rest of the way, and the bench was emptied midway through the fourth.
They again shot well, making 50 percent of their attempts, including seven of 15 3-pointers (46.7 percent), dominated the boards 31-18, forced ECA into 28 turnovers (though Yuma was a little sloppy itself with 25), and the Indians had 19 steals and 17 assists.
Chrisman had 12 points and three rebounds, Hixon 11 points (including three 3-pointers), eight rebounds and three steals, Covarrubias a team-high eight assists, along with 10 points, four rebounds, three blocks and three steals, Mendoza nine points, three rebounds and three assists, Mendez four rebounds, three assists and three steals, Caraveo five points and three steals, Coffield four points and four rebounds, Wells three points and three rebounds, McCreath two points and three rebounds, and Rascon three points.
“I’ve seen them play pretty well,” Sheffield said of ECA. “To a degree, they’re a volume 3-point shooting team, which can be tough when they’re one. We did a great job on the perimeter.”
And now the Indians get to take a shot at a state title.