Pre-holiday cheer

Pre-holiday cheer

Pirates grab league opener over Centennial

The Cotopaxi High School boys basketball team overcame a slow start to down visiting Centennial, 49-41, on Friday night in the District 6 League opener for both teams.

The Pirates, 4-1, 1-0, struggled to make shots before taking the lead for good midway through the second quarter against the Rams from San Luis, 1-3, 0-1.

“You have games like this when shots just aren’t falling for you,” Cotopaxi coach Matt Schwindt said. “We had one kid [Peter Belt] make all of our three-pointers; the rest just weren’t going in but we have to be better from the free throw line when we have those opportunities. That could have been a double-digit win, but we made it closer because we weren’t finishing at the line.”

The Pirates made 12 of 26 free throw attempts (46 percent) and 17 of 44 from the field (39 percent).

Cotopaxi had seven players score. Senior Chance Gulliford led the way with 20 points. Belt, a junior, added 9, his classmate, Jonah Bertolino, chipped in 7 and senior Zachary Van Esselestine added 5.

Centennial proved a tough opponent with its 3-point shooting and hustle on defense. Seniors Cisco Esquibel and Paul Chavez combined to hit seven 3-pointers.

“They are athletic,” Schwindt said. That 21 [Esquibel] is a good player. That little guard [Lennie Valdez] 10 is fast and athletic. It’s just depth with them. Those two can give you fits if they are on.”

Rams’ second-year coach Nate Gonzales said the Pirates proved to be more than one-dimensional.

“We faced them last year. They have the big kid (Gulliford) in the middle who terrorizes the whole conference, so that’s something we had to gameplan for,” Gonzales said. “I wasn’t quite sure about the other personnel, but I was surprised that some of their other kids were hitting shots from the outside, so that kind of pulled us out one of our defenses that we were preparing all week. Those guys did a good job. They are well-coached and a physical bunch, and they stayed calm in their approach to the game, as it should be.”

The Pirates trailed 19-13 with 5:06 left in the second quarter when Chavez hit one of his high-arching 3-pointers.

Cotopaxi responded with back-to-back layups by Gulliford and senior Frank Ogden and two free throws by Guillford to tie the game at 19. The Pirates went ahead for good by making three free throws in the last 3:09 of the first half.

In the final four minutes of the first half, the Pirates did a better job rebounding and became more patient on offense. Van Esselstine provided a spark with a couple of rebounds and strong baseball pass outlets that led to layups.

The Pirates led 37-32 after three quarters. In the fourth quarter, Centennial started using a full-court press, which Cotopaxi was able to break and get easy layups.

In looking forward to the new year, Schwindt said the Pirates need to find their shooting touch again.

“We started shooting pretty hot from 3 at the start of the year and have cooled off,” Schwindt said. “We need to get that back on track. Guys need to be confident with their shots. We need to be better at the free throw line; we haven’t been very good the last few games. We need to shoot a lot at practice.

“I think we are a really good rebounding team. It seems like every game we have double-digit rebounds and we are good defensively. We share the ball well. We just can’t turn the ball over when teams give us pressure. I was happy at the end of this game when they started pressuring us. We didn’t force and got the ball across half court and settled it. That’s an improvement from the ECA game.”

Cotopaxi is back in action on Jan. 4 when they travel to Kim/Branson for a nonleague game.