Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014 | 11:20 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer glance over both the Sunrise and Sunset regional playoff brackets. Will there be any surprises or teams other than Bishop Gorman, Canyon Springs and Foothill representing Southern Nevada next week in Reno?
Not much was expected from the Durango High basketball team after its first game.
Paris Estrada, the Trailblazers’ unquestioned leader and a four-year varsity point guard, tore the ACL in his knee in a loss against Canyon Springs.
With Estrada and transfer Daryl Gaynor in the backcourt, Durango was a preseason top-10 team in Las Vegas and projected to challenge for a Sunset Region title. Without Estrada, the season could be lost.
Not so fast.
Durango did something today that wasn’t expected back in December when Estrada went down, winning a playoff game by topping visiting Cimarron-Memorial 76-71 in the Sunset quarterfinals.
The accomplishment of salvaging the season to win a playoff game wasn’t lost on Durango coach DeShawn Henry. Neither was the fact his team is one of four left in the Sunset — the exact game they were expected to reach before the injury.
Gaynor blossomed into arguably the area’s best senior, scoring 32 points against Cimarron-Memorial and picking up Durango all season when it needed a boost. Estrada is still active on game days, becoming an assistant coach of sorts in encouraging teammates from the bench.
“This is really big for us given the kind of season we had,” Henry said. “These guys thought we could get here, but a lot of people counted us out. We rallied in the latter part of the season. A lot of that is from Daryl and the leadership he brings, and believe it or not, the leadership Paris brings in his new role as an assistant coach.”
Durango went 7-3 in Northwest League games, including a victory against league champion Arbor View, to earn the No. 2 seed and a home playoff game. Gaynor has been the best player on the court most nights, but others have also made significant contributions.
It was the same way against Cimarron.
Durango started strong in closing the first quarter on a 14-0 scoring run for a 19-7 lead after the initial eight minutes. Alex Tarkanian had a 3-pointer in the scoring outburst and Alex Arias scored a pair of buckets. Arias has become a nice second-scoring option behind Gaynor, finishing with 19 points.
“You talk to your kids about the opportunity to step up,” Henry said. “Other players have to go out and do more.”
But when Gaynor went to the bench in the third quarter, Cimarron edged back into the game, trailing by just three points entering the fourth quarter. Twice in the fourth quarter, Cimarron pulled even, tying the game at 58 with about six minutes to play.
That’s when Durango went on an 8-0 scoring run to take the lead for good. And, in a true sign of Durango’s growth, Gaynor didn’t score any of the eight points. Vee Price, who finished with 16 points for Durango, had an eight-point fourth quarter.
“We just play hard,” Gaynor said. “At the beginning of the season, people didn’t think we would be good. We didn’t listen to that. We just came to practice and kept working hard.”
Durango will have its hands full in the semifinals, where it will meet two-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman at 4:40 p.m. Thursday at Durango. Durango is the host for the remainder of the Sunset tournament.
“You always want to play the best. It’s definitely going to be fun tomorrow,” Henry said. “It’s a tall order.”
Cameron McKissic led Cimarron with 30 points, Austin Garrison had 14 and Tony Harrison scored 12.