Senior Tucker McDowell set the floor on fire with 21 points in the quarterfinals of the class 2A boys District 1 basketball tournament Feb. 20, but South Park would see its season end in heartbreak as the number five-ranked Center Vikings took the win with a  63-62 overtime victory.

“We can’t dwell on it and need to build some mental toughness in our future seasons, but we are battling with the big boys of our district, which is very neat.

“So many lessons were learned, and we can’t learn them all at once; but we did our best, and it was something for our community to hang their hat on,” head coach Rick Salazar said.

South Park needed a win in order to qualify for the Semifinals held at Monte Vista High School Feb. 22 and advance into the Championship rounds held at Adams State University Feb. 24.

The Burros were halfway there, taking a number four-seed and hosting the quarterfinals, but despite the season-ending loss, the Burros managed to close their 19-game season with a 7-12 overall record.

“It was a very deceiving record, as we battled in every contest. We had a younger group this year that went hand-in-hand with stage fright and inexperience, but we just kept plucking away. It was a slow-go, but there was growth and these boys learned so much in so many ways, they deserved to go to the playoffs,” Salazar said.

Previously taking a 60-57 win over the Vikings Jan. 27, the Burros worked hard to give their opponent another run for their money. Although the Vikings took an early three-point lead of 9-6 in the first quarter, the Burros fought to close the score gap and led 16-11 in a second quarter shooting challenge.

“They [Center] are pretty good and a typical valley team. They are well coached, but I feel that we matched fairly well athletically. We always play tough against them, but it all came down to them making their shots at the right times,” Salazar said.

Playing with the season on the line, South Park had two players reach double digits. McDowell led with 21 points with nine two-point field goals and three out of five from the free throw line, senior Riley Elliott was next with 11  points, hitting five from the field and a free throw.

Leading 22-20 at the top of the second half, the Burros continued to drive the ball to take an 18-point lead, outscoring the Vikings 20-4 in the third quarter. While Elliott and McDowell dominated the boards with 11 and 10 rebounds, respectively, junior TJ Peter and McDowell chipped in with five steals apiece.

The Burros seemed to have their opponents’ number, adding five assists from Peters and another three from Collin Moore. “We had a big lead. Our boys rebounded well and were playing team ball offensively,” Salazar said.

But the Vikings came back hard in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Burros in the fourth quarter 27-9.

“They had a tough three-point shooter, and we were getting away from our fundamentals. Our shots weren’t falling when we needed them to,” Salazar said.

At the end of four the score was tied 51-51, and the game went into overtime. In the Burros added 11 points against a tough Viking’s 1-3-1 defense. Seven South Park athletes contributed to the scoring, with junior Daigen Springer with nine points, Peter with eight, Moore with six, freshman Leo Banuelos with five, and junior Dillon Himes with two points. But unfortunately for South Park, the Vikings fought back to score the final 12 points of the game.

“We had great effort and didn’t give up as we battled to the end. We were so close, and of course we’re bummed out with the result, but we gave it our best shot. We had a great year overall, and I am proud of these kids,” Salazar said.

The win allowed the Vikings to move ahead into the semi-final round, where they lost a 70-36 to the Del Norte Tigers. From there, they dropped into the consolation round and finished with a 52-45 loss to the Sargent Farmers. The championship round of the District 1 Basketball Tournament saw the Sanford Indians beating the Tigers 52-42.

Season review

Among various season successes, such as reserve champions of the class 2A/1A West Central League and fifth out of eight teams in the class 2A District 1 standings with a 4-3 record, the Burros climbed with achievements as individual stat leaders, finding four athletes in the top six of three separate categories of District 1 competitors.

In a dominating 222 points in 13 games, senior Tucker McDowell climbed to the second-highest shooter of the class 2A District 1 basketball stat leaders. Only beaten by Carlos Parra of Del Norte, McDowell was able to average 17.1 points per game while playing in six fewer games than his opponents. The Burros’ aggressive shooting behavior also found senior Riley Elliott scaling the standings and ranking sixth with an average of 14.2 points per game. Playing in a season-total of 19 games, Elliott was able to close his career with 269 points this season.

South Park players continued to soar in the rankings as Elliott stood second in rebounds per game with an average of 10.1 and finished the season with 192 total rebounds (134 defensive, 58 offensive). Averaging 6.4 rebounds per game, McDowell found himself on the leader board once again, as he finished the season ranked fifth with a season total of 83 (46 defensive, 37 offensive), and junior TJ Peter climbed into the sixth position with 5.9 rebounds per game and wrapped up with 112 for the season (74 defensive, 38 offensive).

The South Park coaching staff pounded the importance of unselfish play, which registered through Burro minds and found Peter ranking second in the district standings with 64 total assists. Following, junior Collin Moore gained ground and ranked fifth with 47 assists on the season.

 Future for the Program

The Burros will graduate two seniors from this year’s team. While one had his season cut short due to preseason injury, the pair was able to accumulate 491 points, 95 offensive rebounds, 180 defensive rebounds, 42 assists, 44 steals, and 16 blocks between them throughout the season.

“Tucker and Riley are pretty darn good ones to lose, as they were scoring and rebounding maniacs, but we have to maintain what we are doing and will continue weight training every Tuesday and Thursday, we’ll do what we can in open gyms, and I think that it’s imperative to see some shooting and fundamentals camps,” Salazar said.

While the loss of a powerful pair will leave an indentation on the team, the squad will push on under the leadership of this year’s four juniors, two sophomores, and two freshmen. Taking the 2017-2018 season on and finishing with 439 points, 81 offensive rebounds, 203 defensive rebounds, 167 assists, 91 steals and 23 blocks, the Burros look to be in good hands.

“For the most part, this team exceeded all expectations. We wanted to go far and it was a tough sell, but it is all part of the growth process. I’d like to see our mindset of confidence and the expectation to win in all sports of South Park expand, which I think can and will happen,” Salazar said.

 The South Park Burros are looking to increase their numbers with the prospect of seven incoming freshmen and the interest of current high school students looking to join next year.

“I look forward to next year’s group. We need to work on moving forward. Building our mental aspect, team play, and fundamentals will push our team to expecting to compete and win,” Salazar said.

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