Arch rivals will clash with a trip to the final four of the state basketball tournament on the line.
The Mean Moose of Alamosa High School and Wolverines of Bayfield High School will clash one more time at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 3A boys basketball state tournament quarterfinals. The teams will meet on a neutral court at the University of Denver's Hamilton Gymnasium.
"I'm excited. I love it," said BHS junior Hayden Farmer. "They're a great program, we're a great program. It's going to be state basketball, and we all know how that is. It's going to be about defense, and we gotta rebound. We're not looking to just be in state, we're looking to win the whole thing and be in that championship."
No. 2 Alamosa (20-3) and No. 7 Bayfield (16-7) have met six times the last two seasons and have split those contests 3-3. In those six games, Alamosa has outscored Bayfield 313-289. Bayfield's three wins have come by a combined nine points.
This year, Alamosa took the first two meetings against the Wolverines in the regular season, but BHS responded in the championship game of the 3A Intermountain League tournament with a 57-53 win to steal the title on the Mean Moose's home floor.
"Here we go, final eight up at (University of Denver)," said BHS head coach Jeff Lehnus. "Once again we have Alamosa. We know each other well. There aren't going to be too many surprises playing each other a fourth time. That doesn't bother us at all."
BHS was without starting point guard Keyon Prior in a 47-32 home loss to Alamosa this year. The Wolverines also were without starter McKay Wells in the league championship game. Now, the Wolverines are expected to be at full strength for this week's matchup after Wells returned off the bench in last weekend's Sweet 16 win against No. 23 The Academy.
Alamosa boasts one of the top defensive teams in the state. The Mean Moose have scored an average of 54.3 points per game and have allowed only 38.9. Meanwhile, Bayfield has averaged 60.8 points per game and has allowed an average of 51.8. But, in three games this year, Alamosa has held BHS to fewer than 40 points twice.
The Mean Moose have been especially effective against BHS star senior forward Ryan Phelps, as they have limited Phelps to an average of eight points per game, 10 fewer than his season average.
"Alamosa is a great team, you gotta give them that," Phelps said. "We got the last win, they got the first two. We're hoping to go up there, give it everything we've got and even it up between the two of us and get to the semifinals."
Phelps has averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.2 blocked shots per game. Farmer has averaged another 10.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. Senior Dax Snooks is close to double-digit scoring at 9.2 points per game, and he has averaged nearly five rebounds per contest. Prior comes in at 8.9 points per game, while Turner Kennedy has proved he can go for double-digits on any given night while averaging 6.1 points per game this season.
A big key for the Wolverines has been building early leads. In the one win against Alamosa this year, Bayfield took a 19-12 lead after one quarter. Key to building an early lead is having 3-point shots fall, which helps open up the painted area for Phelps to work his post-up game.
"Hitting 3s gives us driving lanes and momentum, too," Farmer said. "If you can't shoot 3s in basketball games nowadays, you're not going to win because teams can stack the paint. You gotta hit some 3s and open up those driving lanes by bringing the defense out."
Lehnus hopes to have three players in double-digit scoring in every game and wants his defense to surrender no more than 50 points. BHS' defense has held opponents to fewer than 49 points eight times this season.
"We strive on defense," Farmer said. "That's the priority. If you lock a team down, you're gonna be able to score and get easy points."
Alamosa senior Noah Romero has been a problem for the Wolverines this year, and he hit two game-winning free throws in the team's 41-39 win Feb. 15 against Bayfield. The guard has averaged 11.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game.
Mean Moose senior Ry Adams has averaged 11.1 points and 3.1 assists per game, while senior Angelo Ramirez has averaged 10.8 points and a team-high 9.1 rebounds per game this season.
The Wolverines' focus is on limiting the Moose to one shot per possession and owning the defensive glass. If Bayfield can get past Alamosa, it will secure its place in the final four against the winner of No. 6 Faith Christian (18-6) and No. 14 Manual (16-8).
The loser of Thursday's game will go home, while the winner will be guaranteed two more games. The losers of the 3A semifinals will meet in the third-place game at 2 p.m. Saturday, while the semifinal winners will meet for the state championship at 6 p.m. Saturday.
For a BHS team loaded with athletes who led the football team to a state championship in the fall, chasing rings is the only goal.
"We're peaking at the right time," Farmer said. "We're going for another title, that's the only goal right now."