As if Montezuma-Cortez's hottest player didn't do enough damage near the rim last Saturday evening, he stepped behind the three-point line and cashed his first try from deep.
"And that's what's crazy," Bayfield head coach Jeff Lehnus said afterwards. "We thought, 'He's making threes too?' I hadn't seen that out of him!"
Even crazier, Lehnus wasn't describing Panther standouts Teagan Whiteskunk or Jasen Engel. Instead, junior forward/center Cordell Baer, respected more for his rebounding and defensive tenacity than for his offensive skills, was the Cortez danger man inside BHS Gymnasium.
And even in the fourth quarter, even after a long game going head-to-head with Wolverine senior Ryan Phelps, he still had the legs and arms to keep pumping in the points. In fact, when Baer's count reached 30, four minutes still remained.
"What do you do as a defense?" Lehnus asked. "You try to stop everybody, but you have your priorities; we made Engel and Whiteskunk our priorities, and Baer showed that he can play if he's got the opportunity."
"We thought we'd hold Whiteskunk and Engel - and Baer - to maybe 10," he continued. "And what'd Whiteskunk have? Eleven. And he's usually averaging 19, 20? How much did Engel have? Eight. They had 20 and 20 last time, so Baer 'replaced' them. But you don't lose a game because of one guy doing his thing."
"They're just giving me the ball down low, and I've got to be a leader, putting in work," Baer said. "But in the end, to score 30 and still lose, it doesn't really matter."
"I love playing against him," Phelps said. "He's one of the people in the league that I can really push with; he's more my size. And he's a great player, in football, great in basketball, and it was great to battle with him."
And with Phelps powering inside for a team-high 25 points, three other Wolverines joined him in double figures. Bayfield (12-6, 7-2 IML) rode a press-driven 22-12 first quarter all the way to an 86-66 Senior Day conquest.
"We knew we really had to pressure them," Phelps said. "Because when we played them over there, we were down after three quarters. And then in the fourth, when we really started pressuring them we pulled away (and won 73-65). So we knew that's what we had to do if we wanted to win."
"Tonight we all just played as a team," said senior McKay Wells, whose 15 points may have been as surprising to M-CHS skipper Michael Hall as Baer's production was to Lehnus. "It was a lot of fun, and we definitely had a lot more fun than in the other game. We came together and made it a fun night!"
Up 10 points after eight minutes, BHS' lead grew to 41-28 at halftime and stood 64-48 after the third quarter. Then Whiteskunk went for seven points and looked as though he'd finally found his range. Scoreless during the first half, senior Austin Foxworth also scored the first four of his nine points as the Panthers (10-9, 4-6) clawed back to as close as 60-48 after trailing 57-36.
But with Phelps scoring his last 10 points on his home court during the final frame and senior Carl Heide chipping in a quick four points, there was no doubting which bunch would bank the victory. Wolverine senior guard Dax Snooks registered 18 points and teamed with junior Keyon Prior (13) in leading a full-court press so successful that the Wolverines were shouting and pumping their fists after each takeaway.
Junior Hayden Farmer, key to containing Engel, finished with nine points.
"It was the kind of game it was," said Lehnus. "We scored 86 points, so that was wonderful, and we were consistent; 22-19-23-22 was our scoreline per quarter. Our defense had lapses and we're going to get back to working on that, but we're looking at 10 turnovers or less as our objective, and it was at 10. And steals, we had, like, 16. So we were aggressive."
"Turnovers, is what it was," Baer said. "That made the difference."
"I really, really liked our practices this week," Lehnus recalled. "They were positive, had good energy and it really reflected more on the game. We had more fun, our reactions were more positive, and I think it was that way even when it wasn't a big lead. Unlike last time, we controlled this game from the jump, though I still want our defense better against them; they tend to score some points on us."
Still with hope of splitting the league title, the Wolverines - having risen to No. 10 in the CHSAANow.com Class 3A poll - wrapped up regular-season action on Thursday, Feb. 15, at No. 2 Alamosa (16-2, 8-1).