A freshman guard on Southern Virginia University's 2011 United States Collegiate Athletic Association Div. I National Championship-winning roster, current Centauri head coach Jeff Brown admitted his title ring doesn't see much game-day action, except big-game days.
And on the road Monday, Jan. 28, against a Bayfield bunch known for winning the ultimate prize - not just in basketball, but twice recently in football - mojo had to be mustered and manifested by any means. Brown knew not even junior big Noah Sowards' two-handed flush with 3:03 remaining could subdue CHSAA's defending Class 3A kings.
"It was a six-point game here, and it was looking like they were going to fight their way back in with a minute left," said Brown, an Arvada native and 5A Pomona alumnus. "But we ended up getting some stops, getting some key rebounds and closing it out."
His birthday officially beginning in just a few hours, Wolverine senior Turner Kennedy had other ideas.
Consecutive highlight-reel takes to the hoop brought BHS Gymnasium again to full volume and pulled the home team back to within 57-51 before Centauri's Martin Garcia answered in similar fashion. Motoring in from the right wing, Garcia not only managed to put the ball in the hoop while taking a hard foul from BHS junior forward Ethan Morris, but converted the three-point play, putting the Falcons up nine points with just 40.2 seconds remaining. He followed that up at the defensive end by rejecting senior Keegan Owens' desperation corner three in front of Bayfield's bench with 8.7 left.
Driving reality home to their hosts, CHS freshman Baron Holman then spiked away Owens' next attempt with 2.4 left, clinching a 64-53 victory and dealing the Wolverines just their second home loss this winter.
"Well, we hate losing," said Kennedy, whose 15 points trailed only Garcia's 17 for tops in the Intermountain League contest. Garcia's buzzer-beating three-pointer closing out the third quarter would have demoralized most foes. "We'd come back from stuff like this before, so we didn't give up, which is good, but it shouldn't have happened in the first place. We put ourselves into that situation."
Down 11-4 early on after unexpected three-pointers by Falcon reserves Holman and Eric Maez, Bayfield (10-5, 5-1 IML) responded with senior forward Hayden Farmer booking five unanswered points before CHS sophomore reserve Trey Crowther buried another triple to close out the first quarter.
Garcia's first long-range connection increased Centauri's lead to 19-9 early in the second before BHS' counteroffensive truly commenced. Led by a Morris three-point play, the Wolverines, coming off wins at Pagosa Springs (47-28 on Jan. 25) and Alamosa (38-35 on the 26th), rallied to as close as 25-21 when Owens hit a free throw with 2:35 left.
But the Falcons (11-3, 3-2) responded with an 8-2 burst, and junior Alec Holman rattled in a shooter's-roll three late, putting the guests up 33-23 at intermission. It was his second three-pointer and Centauri's seventh of the half.
"We have to get a hand up in their face, because all our hands were down when they'd shoot," lamented Kennedy. "So it would basically be a wide-open shot for them, and they put 'em in."
An inside basket by senior center Matt McSweeney brought BHS back to 39-34 late in the third, but couldn't finish closing the gap, even with Kennedy netting 11 fourth-quarter points.
"They've got some really great athletes who can handle the ball, get inside the paint really, really easily," Brown said of the Wolverines. "We have some young freshmen out there, who were doing their best to - thank goodness! - stay in front of them, and at the end of the day, we needed stops, they got stops."
"That's all you can ask for from your team as a coach, down the stretch."
Having missed all six of their third-quarter free throws, BHS sank six of seven in the fourth and finished 12-of-21 to Centauri's 12-of-17. The Falcons were also clutch in the fourth, going 8-of-10. Farmer finished with 14 points, senior guard Keyon Prior 10 and Morris six.
Alec Holman finished with 11 points for CHS, which totaled 10 three-pointers compared to BHS' three. Up next, Bayfield will travel west to Montezuma-Cortez (11-3, 3-3) Friday, Feb. 1, then about-face for the long haul east to La Jara and the next day's rematch with Centauri.
"It's just one loss," Kennedy said. "We can come back from it; we're defending State Champs for a reason."