DENVER - On Saturday night, Bayfield High School's Hayden Farmer knew something was unusual in downtown Denver University's Hamilton Gymnasium.
He was in disbelief, as were players from Lutheran High School, who were visibly shocked as Bayfield pulled ahead the 2018 CHSAA Class 3A Boys' Basketball State Championship.
"I just kept hitting them," Farmer said afterwards of his baskets. "I was like, 'What the heck's going on? This is crazy!'"
Having already cashed an early three-pointer, helping the Wolverines level the score at 5-5 early against the Parker-based Lions, the BHS junior knocked down two free throws to put BHS up 9-5. Classmate Turner Kennedy followed with two more makes from the charity stripe, and with 2:57 left in the first quarter, Farmer buried a 16-foot jumper for a 13-5 advantage.
That was it for the Wolverines, who were ranked seventh in the 32-team tourney, as they cruised to a 68-57 win.
Farmer swished his second trey just 36 seconds later. His next long-distance attempt was off-line, but senior center Ryan Phelps was there for the cleanup. It was Phelps' first basket, incredibly, and Bayfield had an 18-5 advantage.
Farmer fired up another three shortly before the quarter ended, and the resulting roar from BHS backers was huge. At least for the night, those fans included players from Sterling as well as Intermountain League rivals Centauri.
"It was like, 'I can't miss? All right!'" said Farmer. "Lots of people, DU right here, the crowd super-loud...my focus was to stay calm: I've got to come in here, be calm and play my hardest for my team. That's what happened, I got open shots, and I knocked 'em down!"
Farmer's scorching start produced 13 points, helped Bayfield break out to a 21-5 lead in just eight regulation minutes. That more or less put the Wolverines on a pace Lutheran couldn't match as BHS followed up a Class 2A State Football Championship in the fall with the ultimate prize in 3A basketball.
"I'm just so happy right now; I can't even explain it," said Farmer, who would finish the first half with 16 of his game-best 18 points. It's a great feeling to be able to take two State championships back to Bayfield!"
"We came out there with heart, intensity, and it all started with defense," said junior Keyon Prior. "But I don't know; something just came over us, I guess! I don't know how to describe it; we just didn't want this opportunity to slip from us."
"We were focusing on it the whole day," Kennedy said. "We were super-pumped. That first quarter, we wanted to send a statement to show that we wanted this."
Despite senior guard Kole Brandon's electric 11-point fourth quarter, giving him a team-leading 17, Lutheran never managed to get within eight points. The closest score was 36-28, via senior Tyler Eldred's two freethrows with 4:04 left in the third quarter.
The Wolverines actually managed to inflate their cushion to an improbable 20 points on a play relatively representative of Lutheran's luck. Senior Justin Kenny had made a two-point basket beginning the second quarter, only to see Kennedy reply with a three-pointer. And after Phelps actually had a shot blocked, Bayfield senior guard Dax Snooks responded with another triple, putting the Wolverines up 27-7 with 6:54 left in the half.
"I mean, Hayden was hot, our defense was on a roll, fired us up for offense, and everything was going right," said Phelps. "It was the best start we could have asked for."
"After watching that game between Sterling and Lutheran, Lutheran played a hell of a game, showed up and gave it everything they had, and I think either one of those teams deserved to be in this game."
"Watching, last night, I realized Lutheran was a very good team!" Prior concurred. "It could have went either way; Sterling let them hang in, had a little off-night, and Lutheran was on. It was crazy."
Farmer closed out the first half with Bayfield's last basket and last defensive rebound, but the Lions, showing some of the Metro League motivation which had tripped the Tigers, had closed to 34-21 by increased rebounding intensity, more aggressive drives into the lane, and a zone-style press which slowed BHS' advances.
"We didn't know how to handle it," admitted Kennedy, "started making stupid turnovers and bad passes. But at halftime we discussed it and it all started working out in the end."
"Second quarter, we didn't have 'Butter' in," Prior noted, referring to Phelps by nickname. "And that's tough because we had to switch up our assignments in our press-breaker. But we'd been running the press-breaker since the beginning of the season, reminded ourselves what to do and we did."
Able to play the Lions to an 11-11 draw in the third quarter, the Wolverines went into the final quarter 45-32 but had to survive one final Lutheran surge. An Eldred trey brought LHS back to 52-43 with 4:31 left, but Kennedy canned a crucial three in response.
Snooks then sank one of two free throws to maintain a comfortable 57-45 advantage.
Unable to contain a widening smile in the waning moments, Snooks (11 points) later made his final two charity tosses, helping Bayfield finish 23-of-31 in that department. He, along with Farmer and Phelps, then moved to Jeff Lehnus' bench with a historic outcome assured.
"If you can't make free throws, you ain't going to win," stated Farmer, who joined Snooks, Kennedy and senior McKay Wells in going 3-of-4 at the foul line. "At this level of play, you've got to do it!"
"It was a pressure, that was good," aid Kennedy (13 points), explaining not only the intensity of every shot but the overall atmosphere. "Like, it wasn't a 'stress' pressure.' I just wanted to play my heart out."
"I want to come back next year," he continued, "but right now I want to focus on the present and celebrate with this team; it's the last time we're ever going to play together, this whole group, and it's a great feeling."
Bayfield finished the season standing 19-7 overall, while Lutheran dipped to 20-7. Sterling finished 26-1 after defeating Faith Christian (19-8) earlier in the day, 48-36, for third place.
"This has been our dream since we were little kids," Phelps (16 points, 10-13 FT) said, "and we finally got up to the State tournament, did everything we could while we were here, and won those three games we needed."
Starting the three-day push for the title with a 43-38 win over IML rivals Alamosa, BHS became the first school in any classification to pull off the football-basketball State Championship double since Faith Christian did so in 2010-11.
"I love both sports equally," laughed Phelps, Colorado's single-season record-holder in quarterback sacks. "They're both great, and not many people have a chance to win one in both. So it's a true blessing that we had that chance; I'm really happy for us."
"As a junior, to have three rings, I'm so blessed," agreed Farmer, a quarterback on Bayfield's two ruling gridiron squads and now part of BHS' first championship crew on the hardwood. "My Heavenly Father, He's blessed me with all my talents, and I'm thankful for my community, all my family, and I'm so happy for the seniors that are able to enjoy this."
"I'm on Cloud Nine, man," said Prior, another triumphant two-sporter who scored five points before fouling out with 3:17 left in the contest. "I'm just so glad to bring back another title to the amazing community of Bayfield. They'll always be behind us, whether we lose or whether we win."
Losing, however, was never an option.