At several points during their road victory over Dolores High School on Feb. 13, the Dove Creek High School boys basketball team could have acknowledged defeat and turned their attention to what promised to be a snowy bus ride home.
Not inclined to quit, however, the Bulldogs chipped away at a 13-point Dolores early in the third quarter before pulling ahead for the first time with 1:42 left in overtime and holding on for a 49-45 win.
“These boys have a drive,” Dove Creek head coach Ty Gray said. “They came together and started playing that third quarter. They don’t have quit in them. That’s what I like about them: They’re going to fight until the end.”
While several Bulldogs players played a key role in their team’s comeback, few played a more significant role than sophomore Tanner Williams, who scored seven second-half points while playing the first extended minutes of his varsity career.
Also playing a big role for Dove Creek were sophomore Kendall Gardner, whose offensive rebound and put-back that gave the Bulldogs their first lead, and sophomore Kade Hankins came through with a team-high 16 points and two late free throws to seal the win.
“We went into halftime, we kept our heads high, and we kept the team up,” Hankins said. “We wanted to keep running it slow, not get in a rush, and keep running our game.”
Before mounting their comeback midway through the third quarter, not much went well for Dove Creek as the team allowed Bears senior Kevin Purkat to score eight first-half points as Dolores jumped out to a 28-19 lead.
Two layups by Hankins and an aggressive drive to the basket and finish by Gardner during the final three minutes of the third quarter gave the Bulldogs hope, however, and a clutch 3-pointer by Williams just before the third-quarter buzzer sounded cut the Dolores lead to 33-29.
“I was open and coach has been telling me all year to shoot the ball,” said Williams, when asked about the momentum changing shot. “It just went in.”
Trailing by four points as the fourth quarter got underway, Dove Creek appeared all but done after a pretty reverse layup along the baseline and a steal and transition finish by Purkat gave Dolores a 37-29 lead with 6:00 left in game.
Showing the type of fight usually seen from champions, the Bulldogs refused to back down as a layup by Williams, and a 3-pointer by Cressler, made the score 37-34 with 5:10 left.
After both teams exchanged a series of baskets over the next four minutes, Dove Creek found itself trailing 41-38 with under a minute to go. A free throw by Cressler with 39 seconds left cut the Bears lead to two points before a layup by Williams with 29 seconds left tied the game.
“(Williams) has been the key player that I’ve been wanting to step up,” Gray said. “We’re just trying to get him to have confidence. He can shoot the ball well, but he hasn’t had much varsity experience. Tonight, he had a very good ball game. It was his best as a varsity player.”
As overtime got underway and the game hung in the balance, Dolores junior Tyler Nowlin, Dove Creek senior Hayden Gray, Gardner and Purkat all scored baskets and the score stood tied at 45.
A wild miss on a 3-pointer by Williams with 1:42 left appeared to give the Bears hope, but an offensive rebound and put-back by Gardner after he appeared to come over a Dolores player’s back gave Dove Creek a 47-45 lead.
After Purkat missed a shot to tie with 26 seconds to go, Hankins stepped to the line and calmly drained two free throws with 18.5 seconds left to put his team ahead 49-45 and seal the victory.
“It was stressful, but you gotta be built for big pressure moments,” said the sophomore. “That’s what defines a good basketball team.”
Scorers for Dove Creek included Hankins with 16 points, Gray with 13 points, Williams and Cressler with seven points, and Gardner with six points. Dolores was led by Purkat, with 16 points, and Tyler Nowlin, with 8 points.
Now 4-2 overall and 3-0 in the San Juan Basin League, the Bulldogs will have almost a week off before they return to the court for a road matchup against Ridgway on Feb. 20. Dolores will look to improve on its 3-3 record when it plays at home against Ridgway on Feb. 16.
“In our league, this (state) means a lot,” Hankins said, when asked about his team’s standing at this point in the season. “3-0 in our league is a big step, we haven’t done that in a long time. We’re just trying to make history here in Dove Creek.”