With 45 seconds left in a thrilling Intermountain League District Tournament contest between Montezuma-Cortez High School and Bayfield High School, members of the host Panthers’ student section loudly chanted, “I believe that we will win.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers’ faithful, belief did not become reality as the sixth-seed Bayfield Wolverines (4-16) erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit and came through with a stunning 65-63 victory over the tournament’s third-seeded team.
Sophomore Landon Kennedy led Bayfield offensively with 18 points, and junior Hunter Bayles chipped in 12 points for the Wolverines.
“We’re at a high right now,” said Bayfield sophomore Isaac Ross, who knocked down two key 3-pointers during the fourth quarter and scored 12 points in the game. “This is the best that we’ve been playing as a team all year. Honestly, I think we can beat anyone.”
While Ross’ hot shooting over the final eight minutes proved key in the Wolverines’ victory, the role of hero was ultimately played by junior Kacey Chandler, who knocked down what turned out to be the game-winning jump shot from the free throw line with 20 seconds left.
Chandler’s clutch shot came after M-CHS senior Adrian Mark hit his first of two free throws to tie the game, 63-63 with 28.2 seconds left. After Mark missed his second free throw, Chandler pushed the ball up the court and pulled up for a wide open shot in transition.
“I was going down, and they were sticking out on the 3-point shooters,” Chandler said. “Coach has us shoot that shot all the time in practice, and so it’s just like any other shot.”
Although the final result of the contest was a thrilling one for Bayfield, the game’s exciting ending was somewhat surprising in light of the fact M-CHS (10-10) controlled the pace throughout the second and third quarters and led 45-35 entering the final quarter of play.
Leading the way offensively for the Panthers was senior Titus Jackson, who mixed slicing layups with unusually accurate 3-point shooting while scoring a game-high 21 points. Mark scored 14 points for M-CHS and senior Teagan Whiteskunk chipped in 11 points.
“We got in foul trouble, we lost a little momentum and we just didn’t knock down our shots,” M-CHS coach Michael Hall said. “We missed some wide open layups and we missed five (3-pointers in a row).”
Even with the Panthers’ fourth quarter shooting struggles, a Bayfield victory would not have come to fruition absent the Wolverines’ tenacious defense and clutch shooting down the stretch.
Five Bayfield players, including Kennedy, Bayles, Ross, Chandler and junior Crosby Edwards, scored during the game’s final eight minutes as Bayfield continued to chip away at its deficit before taking its first lead of the game when Bayles hit two free throws to put his team ahead 55-54 with 3:07 left.
“I told our guys to focus on one possession at a time. We just had to get it back and they did,” Bayfield head coach Klint Chandler said. “We got some stops, and I thought we were getting some stops in the third, but we couldn’t score. We started knocking down some shots there and that helped us.”
A 3-pointer by Ross on the ensuing offensive possession put Bayfield back in front by a point. After Jackson scored a layup to put M-CHS back ahead, the Wolverines pulled ahead for good when Ross drained a 3-pointer from the right baseline with 1:48 left to put his team ahead 61-59.
“I come in off the bench a lot, and I was thinking that I needed to do something to get us back into the game because we were down at the time,” Ross said. “I just got hot and I kept shooting.”
Thanks to Ross’ hot shooting, Chandler’s game winner and Bayfield’s big win, the Wolverines ensured that they will play at least one more game. That game will take place in Monte Vista against Centauri High School on Friday in the league tournament semifinals. BHS has come a long way since a 77-51 loss to M-CHS on Jan. 18 when it was in the midst of a 12-game losing streak.
The Panthers will await word as to whether they will play in the Class 3A Regional Tournament, which will include the top 32 teams in the state.
“When we started today, we were ranked 33rd (in the RPI rankings), so a bunch of crazy stuff would have to happen for us to move into that upper 32,” Hall said. “We could play another postseason game, but probably not.”