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La Junta avenges earlier loss to James Irwin with road victory on Jags' court
On Dec. 15, Pikes Peak 3A No. 2 James Irwin started a four-game winning streak with an eight-point road win at La Junta. On Friday, that streak ended in reverse fashion as the Tigers exacted a measure of revenge.
Joel Johnson led all scorers with 19 points, and Brandon Martinez scored 12 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter – including three consecutive 3-pointers in a span of 2:07 – as La Junta evened the score with a 59-46 triumph.
“We’re a streaky team, and sometimes it takes a while to get going,” Tigers coach Brock Hinkhouse said. “We might not have it every game, but when it gets going, it’s nice.”
The Jaguars (7-3 overall, 5-1 3A Tri-Peaks East) expected an inspired defensive effort from La Junta (8-3, 5-1). They got it, scoring fewer than 50 points for only the second time this season. It didn’t help that leading scorer Maurice Simpson (13.8 points) left the game early in the second half with a left shoulder injury, a foul sending the senior hard to the floor after a highlight-reel dunk.
Simpson did not return and scored just four points, while sophomore Maurice Blackburn, who entered the game averaging nearly 11 points, was held scoreless, missing all eight shots.
Senior AJ Byrd, son of first-year coach Anthony Byrd, stepped up with a season-high 17 points, including five 3-pointers, while senior center Jesse Harding added eight points and 11 rebounds.
“We knew they were coming in here for revenge, and they made the adjustments and beat us,” Harding said. “We knew what to expect out of them. We just didn’t do our jobs.”
Martinez, who entered the game with a 15.3 point-per-game average, took just two shots in the first half and missed both. He ended the drought with a short jumper in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, his woes continued as he missed the first two shots before the senior finally found his stroke.
Three consecutive 3-pointers, all from about the same spot on the court near the left corner, stretched the La Junta (8-3, 5-1) lead to 51-41 with 3:36 left.
“I needed to get pumped up for the team,” Martinez said. “I was thinking about this game a lot. I just thought about the scoreboard from last game and just wanted to dominate here. We really needed this win.”
Elijah Shaw hit a short runner from the right baseline to bring James Irwin to within 38-36 with 7:24 left in the game. La Junta junior Casey Weber responded with a driving layup to push the Tigers’ lead back to four. Following a defensive stand, Martinez hit the first of his long-range shots for a 43-36 Tigers advantage.
The Jags got no closer than five the rest of the way.
“Our defense just didn’t get it done,” AJ Byrd said. “We’re a defensive team, and we didn’t play as strong as we should have. We had a chance to come back, but it comes back to defense.”