Held to just three baskets during the second half - none in the fourth quarter - and outscored 30-12 during that span, the Bayfield boys were unable to take the Intermountain League lead outright last Saturday, falling 47-32 at home to Alamosa.
"They've been playing this kind of defense all year, and that's why they've only had one loss," Bayfield head coach Jeff Lehnus said of Alamosa. "We have some more work to do."
Unable to follow up their highlight-filled 57-50 road win at Pagosa Springs the night before, the Wolverines got 12 points from junior Hayden Farmer, who was held to seven by the Pirates, but only eight from senior big Ryan Phelps (who'd tortured PSHS for a game-best 29).
The Mean Moose, ranked #2 in the CHSAANow.com Class 3A poll both before and after the victory, got a game-high 15 points from senior guard Noah Romero. He led Alamosa's 21-point third quarter by scoring eight himself and repeatedly penetrating the lane to create opportunities for teammates.
"We know how different they'll be - and better they'll be - with Keyon out there; we know that's a big loss for them," Moose head coach Brandon Brubacher said, addressing injured Wolverine junior Keyon Prior's booted-ankle absence while looking forward to the Feb. 9 rematch in the San Luis Valley. "But, I just felt a comeback coming from them, and luckily we were able to hold it off and pull one out!"
"Don't know exactly what would have happened if we'd had Keyon," said Lehnus, "but we just couldn't risk it. He could have went, maybe, a minute or two, but we need to have him when it really matters."
With Romero and senior newcomer Ry Adams struggling to get around counterparts Dax Snooks, Turner Kennedy and McKay Wells, BHS led 9-7 after one quarter, then withstood Alamosa's short-lived charge in the second to take a 20-17 lead into halftime. Both teams were sides concerned about their players' foul counts (AHS' Sebastian Palacios had three and fellow senior Angelo Ramirez two; Phelps had two for BHS).
"With our two bigs in foul trouble, their big in foul trouble, at one time I think both teams pulled all the posts off the floor and it was 10 guards!" Brubacher noted. "I think we were both kind of in the same boat as far as depth goes, at that position, and luckily our kids stepped up, handled the ball well and got some points at the rim when Phelps came off the floor."
AHS junior reserve Nicholas Brubacher began the third quarter with a tying trey, but Farmer quickly answered with a basket assisted by Phelps, and Bayfield (8-5, 3-1 IML) got a serious morale boost when Ramirez was whistled for his third foul with 6:44 left.
It didn't last long. Introducing himself properly to the opposing fans, unknown sophomore Ian Jackson drove to the far side of the rim and not only managed to get a runner over Phelps' destructive arms, but watched it fall through the net as Phelps picked up his third. Jackson sank the free throw, re-tying the score at 25-25.
The Wolverines would never lead again.
Held to just two points in the first half, Romero correctly sensed that the tide had turned in Alamosa's favor and drove in for a go-ahead basket. With 2:49 still remaining, junior Chad Jackson converted a three-point play after taking contact from BHS senior Dawson Heide. That increased AHS' advantage to 32-25, and Romero then rapidly cashed a three, upping it to an inconceivable 10 points.
"Doomed third quarter," said Lehnus. "That was the breaker right there. We never got Ryan going, and part of that was their pressure defense, made us put the ball on the floor a lot. Didn't get inside like we needed to."
Coming into BHS Gymnasium still stoked by their 55-41 win over Centauri the night before, Alamosa's victory-capped by two Adams FTs after Kennedy fouled out with 0:25.9 left-was, fittingly, their sixth straight.
Totaling 12 points, Ian Jackson joined Romero in double figures while Adams and Chad Jackson each booked six. Ramirez fought for five-all in the second quarter, keeping the Moose (10-1, 4-0) close early-and Brubacher ended with three.
"I felt like our kids responded," Brandon Brubacher said. "This is a very hard gym to win in! A great crowd, a great environment-it was hard to leave here with a win."
Scoreless against Springs, Wells managed six points against AHS, but Snooks was held to four and Kennedy two (after getting ten at PSHS), while Dawson and Carl Heide were blanked after each entered off the bench.
"We were just not as composed tonight," said Lehnus. "We don't like losing to Alamosa, obviously, especially in our gym; we beat them here last year. But we started reacting to other things, rather than keeping our focus on the game."
"Last year we lost to them over there; that meant the best we could do was tie for the regular-season league championship," he continued. "They didn't want that again, but now that's what we'll be battling for the rest of the way. It was a tough one for us tonight-had a lot of meaning behind it."
Up next, the Wolverines will continue IML play visiting Montezuma-Cortez Friday, Jan. 26, then return to host Centauri the next evening. M-CHS stood 7-5 overall, 2-2 in league prior to hosting Durango (3-10, 1-1 4A/5A Southwestern) on Tuesday, Jan. 23. Centauri (8-5, 1-3 IML) will prep for their visit to BHS by invading Pagosa Springs (8-4, 2-2) on Friday.