ARVADA-Put the underdog on the court with a figurative rock, nothing to lose and a classification to again shock, and you'd have the most dangerous enemy last winter's Goliath could have faced in the 2016 CHSAA Class 3A State Tournament's initial Round of 32.
"We had to come out and give it all we've got, and we did that at the start," Bayfield senior guard Taed Heydinger said after the March 4 thriller. "We came out firing right away, and it was good! I mean, we knew they were tall-they had six-five, six-seven, six-eight-so we were putting it up over them, and they were going down!"
Sophomore center Ryan Phelps somehow sank a runner over Colorado Springs Christian's 6'5" junior Justin Engesser to get the 22-seed Wolverines on the board (inside hosting 6-seed Faith Christian's gymnasium), and freshman guard Keyon Prior then followed with a confident floater over 6'7" senior Sam Howard.
Three-pointers from seniors Trey Nielsen and Peter Wilson helped #11 CSCS assert themselves, but a daring reverse layup by Prior would later tie the score at 11-11, and a Heydinger three gave BHS-proudly vocalizing each success-an unlikely advantage after eight full minutes against the reigning 3A state champions.
"We just know that we play IML ball, and we don't have the greatest shooters in our league but everybody in our league plays really good defense," senior forward Zane Phelps said. "And we knew that if we were physical with these guys that.would kind of be our 'edge.' And it was working for us; we were crashing the boards, getting loose balls, and we were working really hard."
Howard and Bayfield junior sixth-man Brian Mashak traded buckets beginning the second quarter, and a steal-and-score by energized sophomore Hunter Killough had the Intermountain Leaguers up 18-13. The Lions however, suddenly sensing what was taking shape, finally found a style of play to their liking and clawed back to 20-18 before Prior deftly slipped a no-look feed to junior forward Fred Edwards for an easy layup.
Engesser managed to finally pull CSCS level again, 22-22, with 4:25 left before halftime, but BHS fought back with two Ryan Phelps baskets and two by Prior-the latter coming off a steal immediately after he'd missed a free throw-before Colorado Springs Christian closed the half with a 5-0 burst for a shaky 34-30 lead.
"You know, we knew they were good and we knew that if we lost it would be our last game," Heydinger said. "I think it was all just the hype of being up here in Denver, and all that kind of stuff that got us going."
"We were down.in the second quarter and then we were up four at halftime, and just kept going back and forth," said Engesser, "which.it's playoffs-everybody's good who makes it, obviously. Their defense was.a little bit confusing, but we ended up settling down and started to make shots."
But not until after a Phelps FT and another Heydinger triple swiftly tied the game, and a Prior three put the Wolverines out front again at 37-36. Engesser's lone three then regained the Lions a 39-37 lead. Nielsen followed with a make from distance, and Howard mashed his way to the hoop for two and BHS' Jeff Lehnus called a timeout with his side trailing 44-37 and 4:48 still remaining.
Forcing the issue, CSCS sophomore guard Noah Hopkins came up with a steal shortly after the stoppage and threw it ahead to Engesser for an easy breakaway layup-resulting in another Bayfield timeout with 4:10 left.
"I think we kind of came out of halftime a little slow and sluggish, didn't really have our feet under us," Zane Phelps said, "and we just realized that we'd better pick up the defense and jump on it!"
Killough then converted a hard drive to interrupt Christian's spree, but CSCS countered with two Nielsen FT's and another Howard deuce inside to increase their lead to 50-39 with only one stanza left.
"We were a little flat in the third quarter," Heydinger concurred. "So we tried getting up and firing again, and.we came close, but it just wasn't enough."
"We weren't getting enough fast-break points, and we ended up having them force.contested threes, then we'd rebound and run," said Engesser. "So I think just running a little gave us momentum into the fourth quarter."
And still it almost wasn't enough.
Getting the last seven of Ryan Phelps' team-high 17 points, the last six of Mashak's eight, the last two of Killough's eight, and the last two of Prior's breakout 15-point effort, Bayfield actually won the final frame 17-16, and came as close as 54-45 before ultimately falling 66-56.
"We kind of had a second breath," said Zane Phelps, uncharacteristically held scoreless by the Lions' posts and hampered by four fouls. "Sometimes it doesn't always bounce our way, and I think that's.the second half."
"Me and Zane have been playing this sport all four years of high school," Heydinger (six points) said, "and Brandon (Stuever) and Zach (Kujath).they've been in it with us, and it just means everything to make the playoffs one more time, come up and have a great game. Playing the defending champs that close-it means a lot for us."
Also one foul short of disqualification, Howard finished with a game-best 18 points for Christian.
"It was just first-round nerves, I think," Engesser added, of what most threatened Christian, "guys just settling in."
Added Heydinger: "They're the defending champs, and there's nothing we can do when we're missing shots and they're making them. So I think we could have done it; it just wasn't our night. We had all the pieces we needed; we just played a great team tonight in CSCS."
"The kids will come back next year and do fine.I think they'll be a good team. I'll be here to watch 'em!"
"It's good to start getting Bayfield basketball back on the map!" Zane Phelps agreed.
"I mean, we haven't always in the past been a real successful basketball program, and to come out here and make it to regionals two years in a row.that's awesome to help turn it around. And we've got a lot of young talent coming up; I hope to see them develop and be successful in the future."
Bayfield finished the season an even 11-11 overall, while Colorado Springs Christian improved to 18-5. The Lions are now 19-5 with a 68-57 victory Saturday over Metro League champs FCHS (18-6), locking up a place in this weekend's Great Eight inside the Denver Coliseum.
CLASS 3A STATE TOURNAMENT, ROUND OF 32:
#22 Bayfield 56, at #11 Colorado Springs Christian 66:
BHS (14-16-9-17) 56-T.Heydinger 2 0-0 6, Z.Phelps 0 0-0 0, K.Prior 7 0-1 15, H.Killough 4 0-0 8, R.Phelps 5 7-9 17, B.Mashak 3 2-4 8, F.Edwards 1 0-0 2, H.Farmer 0 0-0 0, Z.Kujath 0 0-0 0, B.Stuever 0 0-0 0, D.Snooks 0 0-0 0, M.Wells 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 22 9-14 56. 3-POINTERS: Heydinger 2, Prior. TOTAL FOULS: 14. FOULED OUT: None.
CSCS (11-23-16-16) 66-S.Howard 8 2-3 18, T.Nielsen 6 2-2 16, P.Wilson 3 4-5 12, N.Hopkins 1 0-0 2, J.Engesser 7 1-1 16, W.Frost 0 0-0 0, J.Greager 0 0-0 0, Z.Wismer 0 0-0 0, J.Dunn 0 0-0 0, J.Hoekert 0 0-0 0, J.Selje 0 0-0 0, J.Burbidge 0 0-0 0, B.Pitt 0 2-2 2. TOTALS: 25 11-13 66. 3-POINTERS: Nielsen 2, Wilson 2, Engesser. TOTAL FOULS: 10. FOULED OUT: None.