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Durango beats Liberty for first Southern title since 1996 — PHOTOS

Updated February 18, 2023 - 9:34 pm

As soon as the buzzer sounded following Durango’s 65-59 win against Liberty, the Trailblazers swarmed onto the court.

Someone brought a flag — black with Durango’s logo emblazoned in the middle — and somehow senior Tylen Riley got his hands on it. He emerged from the crowd with the flag near the logo at halfcourt before turning to the Durango fans and waving it in front of them.

Riley had waited for that moment for almost 12 months.

“It felt real good,” he said. “They did it to us last year, so we had to give it back.”

Liberty eliminated Durango from the playoffs last season in the Class 5A Southern League semifinals, so it was fitting for the Trailblazers to beat the Patriots on the road Saturday to claim the 5A Southern League title.

Durango and Liberty advance to next week’s state tournament, where the Trailblazers will be the top seed.

Junior forward Taj Degourville scored 22, Riley poured in 16 points, and sophomore guard Jevon Yapi added 13, including two huge step-back 3s near the end of the third and fourth quarters.

Liberty guard Dedan Thomas Jr. led all scorers with 30 points.

It’s Durango’s first Southern League championship since 1996, when the Trailblazers won the Southern Zone championship on its way to a state title. Interim coach Mike Lee, who took over after the abrupt resignation of Chad Beeten on Feb. 1, is looking to repeat history.

“Our guys are just so hungry right now,” Lee said. “We’re fighting. We’re fighting like hell at this point.”

Durango set the tone early. Degourville scored seven quick points, including a 3 from the top of the arc, to start the game. The Trailblazers grabbed several offensive rebounds as Riley, sophomore Colton Knoll and junior Michael Bartlett extended possessions and wore down the Liberty defense. The Patriots only scored nine points in the quarter.

“Taj is the motor for us,” Yapi said. “He plays angry, and we get motivated. We get excited. Then we play 10 times harder.”

Liberty got back into the game through Thomas. The junior used an array of mid-range tricks to create space or get to the free-throw line. He hit floaters, step-back jump shots and got defenders in the air for easy fouls, hurting Durango’s already short rotation to pull Liberty back within four points at halftime.

Thomas continued to torment the Durango defense in the second half. Liberty entered the bonus with 6:44 remaining, and a Thomas three-point play had the Patriots within 50-48. No other Patriot reached double figures.

With the game in the balance, Riley took control. He scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter, and at one point accounted for eight consecutive Durango points. He also picked Thomas’ pocket down the stretch to get Degourville an easy transition layup.

“It was incredible to see him do that,” Degourville said. “I believe in him so much. I’d go to war with him any time.”

Degourville sealed the game at the free-throw line, making his final four attempts to slam the door on Liberty’s comeback and clinch the No. 1 seed at the state tournament.

“We worked so hard for this,” Yapi said, “all the blood, sweat and tears.”


Class 3A

■ No. 1D Somerset-Losee 65, No. 1M SLAM Academy 46 — At SLAM Academy, the Lions (21-3) beat the Bulls (28-3) to claim the Southern Region championship. Both teams advance to next week’s state tournament at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

Class 2A

■ No. 1 The Meadows 63, No. 2 Democracy Prep 49 — At The Meadows, the Mustangs (23-4) defeated the Blue Knights (20-8) for the Southern League title. Both teams advance to next week’s state tournament, set to begin Friday at Cox Pavilion.


Class 2A

■ No. 1 Democracy Prep 69, No. 2 Needles 36 — At The Meadows, the Blue Knights (25-3) fell behind early before recovering to roll to victory over the Mustangs (21-9) in the Southern League championship game. Both teams will play in next week’s state tournament, beginning Friday at Cox Pavilion.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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