Already making a mental must-do list to ready his team for a Jan. 9 road game at 5A Kirtland Central, Bayfield head coach Jeff Lehnus' preliminary plan for success was mathematical at its most basic:
"You know, if we take one half from yesterday," he quipped before exiting BHS Gymnasium, his Wolverines having posted a 2-0 mark while hosting the 2018 Southwest Colorado Classic, "and one half from today...well, there you go!"
If only basketball were that simple.
But with a re-composed, inspired second half against Pine River Valley rival Ignacio on the tournament's first night, and an overwhelming first half against La Plata County neighbor Durango the next evening, Bayfield still managed to twice protect their court beginning the New Year.
"Especially against a rival, a quality program - like Ignacio - you give 'em hope when you come out and don't respond and play with intensity and energy," Lehnus said. "And I don't care who it is; we have to learn, as the quality program we've become, everybody now is going to come and bring their best game!"
"We've got a lot of work to do, and we're excited for Kirtland; it's going to be a good game," junior forward Hayden Farmer said. "And we've got a tough league this year; most of the teams in our league are ranked-which is good for our RPI and everything-so it's going to be a fun season."
With Farmer scoring the second half's first seven points, Bayfield quickly trimmed IHS' 40-29 halftime lead down to something much more manageable. Senior guard Dax Snooks drained a three-pointer shortly thereafter, making the score 42-39, and after junior Keyon Prior sank a free throw, Farmer threw a perfect alley-oop pass to the rim's far side where senior Ryan Phelps, curling backside, mashed it down to finally even the score.
And at last electrify the home fans.
"I wasn't happy with much of anything that first half, in a lot of different ways," said Lehnus. "The outside shot wasn't falling and we had a talk, you know? Like, 'Listen, right now we need to balance the offense.' We felt like we had the advantage inside and we weren't taking enough advantage of it! And so the second half, Hayden really got us going to start that third quarter and was doing it down low. And Ryan in the fourth.."
Providing seven points inside, BHS' big again got the crowd roaring with a clean-up dunk of a Farmer miss, cutting the Bobcats' regained 54-51 advantage to just a point, and again brought the locals level at 57-all with a hard take but less-forceful finish. Scoring a 10-point period, Prior then drove the lane and dropped in a runner to put the Wolverines ahead, and then buried a vital trey for a five-point lead.
"I've been wanting Keyon to do more, and he did; he's playing the way I think he needs to be," Lehnus said. "He needs to be one of our penetrators making things happen and he did a lot better job of that."
IHS reserve guard Daniel Weaver nailed a three to bring the visitors back to 64-60, but three Prior FTs inside the thriller's last minute rebuilt the Wolverine lead to 68-62, and the closing margin remained six at 70-64.
Scoreless during the first quarter, Phelps ultimately registered a team-best 20 points and Prior was right behind with 18. Farmer booked 17 and junior guard Turner Kennedy came off the bench to chip in seven. Going 11-of-14 from the charity stripe during the final frame, BHS finished 19-of-26 while Ignacio was 12-of-15.
"That was crucial," Lehnus admitted. "We hadn't been shooting free throws well, and you've got to be able to cash 'em in!"
There wasn't anywhere near as much drama before, nor would there be on Day 2 against DHS after only eight excellent minutes. With Snooks, Kennedy and senior McKay Wells each drilling a three, and Prior driving for five points, Bayfield held an 18-8 lead going into the second quarter. Going 7-of-9 collectively from the foul line, the advantage ballooned to 37-12 at halftime and the Demons were never in contention in losing 63-33.
"We want to hold teams in the 40s, and to give up 42 in a half is not acceptable to our goals," said Lehnus, looking back to the Ignacio game, "and the pride we take in our defense."
"Part of being a quality team is that you've got to be able to let things go; you can't dwell. What's past has happened, take what we need to learn from it and live.one possession at a time, make defensive stops. And we started doing that."
"The third quarter we kind of got selfish," Farmer said, alluding to the Demons' 12-10 winning of it, "but we were a little hyped up because Durango's a 'cross-town' rival, so everyone wanted a piece of it."
And in defeating a DHS varsity for the first time in nearly seven decades, everyone more or less got their piece. Prior paced BHS with 13 points and Phelps posted 10. Coming off the bench and making eight of 10 FTs, senior Carl Heide also booked 10 points while Farmer and Snooks each totaled nine.
Kennedy again scored seven, Wells contributed three and reserve Wyatt Whitmer two-leaving game-day JV call-up Crosby Edwards as the only Wolverine in uniform not to score, but it wasn't for a lack of trying.
Sophomore Lawrence Reed connected on three triples for nine points as 4A Durango dropped to 2-8 overall. Classmate Ian Black recorded his seven points all in the fourth quarter-which commenced with Bayfield cruising, 47-24.
Following the test at Kirtland, the Wolverines (4-4) will begin 3A Intermountain League play with a 7 p.m. tip Friday, Jan. 12, in La Jara at Centauri, then quickly return to host Monte Vista the next evening at 5 p.m.
"What I'm pleased about is that we tried to be strong mentally, to remain calm, confident and focused," stated Lehnus. "We have to come ready to play every game from now on-especially with the dreams we have."