If there’s one person perhaps more surprised than others to be holding the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A Intermountain League boys basketball tournament, it’s Centauri head coach Jeff Brown.
“Before the season started, when people would ask me what my thoughts were, I’d say, ‘It’s a six-team race.’ And that’s really what I’m thinking,” he said after last month’s successful trip to Bayfield, a key victory in the Falcons’ 8-2, IML-winning regular-season performance. “I think there’s five teams really fighting for that one, two spot. And how the chips fall after that, it’s going to be interesting.”
Bayfield has won the previous two league tournament titles, with a 57-53 win over Alamosa in last year’s finale and 56-54 over the Mean Moose in 2017.
In the semifinals Saturday, the Wolverines will face third-seed Montezuma-Cortez, which eliminated Monte Vista 82-70 in the pigtail play-in Wednesday evening. Montezuma-Cortez junior forward Titus Jackson went off for 26 points, and senior forward Cordell Baer supported him well with 20, including 14 in the final frame. Senior guard Michael Diaz also reached double figures with his 11 points, and junior guard Teagan Whiteskunk chipped in 10, making for a diverse attack which BHS will have to restrict when the teams tip off, weather permitting, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at M-CHS.
The second-seed Wolverines (11-8) are most definitely fueled up to follow up on their senior night triumph this past Friday over Pagosa Springs.
“We wished it was on Thursday,” BHS senio guard Keyon Prior said of the Pagosa game after it was postponed a day. “We had a pep assembly and probably would have had another 50 kids here, but I’m still glad people took time out of their day to come watch us even though we’ve been struggling.
“When you go on a four-game losing streak, it’s tough to come back from that. It starts to snowball, your thoughts become pessimistic, you start thinking negatively, but we finally just brought it together in practice, then balled out tonight.”
BHS senior guard Turner Kennedy said the team’s back was against the wall, and beating the Pirates restored confidence.
“We’re defending IML champs, defending state champs,” Kennedy said. “I definitely think we can win it; we just have to figure out how to play against those teams that beat us, and fix things that hurt us in those games.”
Having multi-pronged production similar to what trounced Pagosa Springs – or what pushed Montezuma-Cortez (15-5) past Monte Vista (8-12) – will be key against not only the Panthers, but whomever the Wolverines will face next at the showdown. Kennedy netted 18 points against PSHS, with senior forward Hayden Farmer scoring 16, Prior 15, and senior guard Keegan Owens nine.
All told, nine different BHS players booked at least one point in the win, though Baer-like junior center/forward Mason Snarr did battle for a Pirate-high 16 points and sophomore post Mitch Lewis managed 13.
And, as for tempo, the Wolverines want to be the ones mashing the gas.
“We want to move, we want to go fast,” Kennedy said. “When we started getting a bunch of steals, I think they were kind of shell-shocked. And after we got up big, they kind of just shut down.”
Prior said the Wolverines will start rolling again but won’t overlook their opponents but warned they shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
“We respect all the teams in our league, but we definitely have a great chance for the third year in a row,” he said.
In the other Feb. 20 play-in, fourth-seed Alamosa (11-9) defeated fifth-seed Pagosa Springs (9-11) 48-26, and will next challenge Centauri (16-3) on Saturday. Both tipoff time and a neutral San Luis Valley site – decided upon because of winter weather and safe travel concerns for both teams – had yet to be determined as of 10 a.m. Thursday.
The tournament is now set to conclude Monday at M-CHS with the girls’ third-place game set for 1 p.m., the boys’ third-place game at 2:30 p.m., the girls’ championship at 4 p.m. and the boys’ championship to follow.
“We were able to get CHSAA to agree to allow us to play on Monday, which meant moving postseason seeding committee meetings to Tuesday. So that was huge,” said Bayfield athletic director Derrick Martin. “We moved up Monday’s game times in Cortez to try to get teams/fans home as early as we can.”