M-CHS senior Austin Wood’s eyes light up when he sees Bayfield on the schedule. Some of his best games have come against the Wolverines.
In perhaps his final meeting against the La Plata County rivals, Wood might have saved his best for last. The senior took over the game against the visiting Wolverines, accounting for half his team’s points in a captivating 66-63 victory on Saturday afternoon.
For the first time as Intermountain League foes, M-CHS swept the regular season series against Bayfield, having toppled the Wolverines 63-58 two weeks prior.
Wood’s flair for the dramatic came up big as the Panthers (6-7, 2-3 4A/3A IML) needed a late-game reversal of fortune, trailing by five points to Bayfield with four minutes remaining. Having led for most of the contest, M-CHS watched Bayfield go on a big run to open the fourth quarter to seize the momentum.
After M-CHS head coach Mike Hall called a timeout to settle his team down, the Panthers responded with a burst, pressuring the Wolverines into turnovers that led to a decisive run to put M-CHS in front for good. Wood sank 12 free throws in the game, including five in the fourth quarter, to help ice the victory.
Both teams limbered up for a track meet before the opening tip, which made for a frenetic start to the contest. With each team wasting fewer than 10 seconds on each possession to fire a shot, the teams combined to score 41 points in the first eight minutes, with M-CHS leading 21-20 – thanks in large part to M-CHS sophomore Tay Wheat’s nine first quarter points.
For Bayfield (6-8, 1-5 4A/3A IML), senior wing Jackson Queen answered with nine points of his own, setting the stage for his own scoring exhibition.
The offensive flurry started to ebb in the second stanza, but for Wood, the afternoon was just beginning. The sharpshooting guard nailed a pair of threes, and accounted for 10 of the Panthers’ 15 points in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Bayfield sophomore Lincoln Williams attacked the Panther back line, and kept the Wolverines in the game with eight first-half points, but the hosts built a five-point edge heading into the locker room, M-CHS led 36-31.
Then, the fun really began.
In a quarter that hearkened the days of Michael Jordan versus Larry Bird, Wood and Queen put on a third-quarter display. The duo put together personal highlight reels in the frame, with each coming up with a big shot to swing momentum back into their team’s camp. Between Bayfield and M-CHS, the teams scored 34 points in the quarter – Wood and Queen accounted for 26.
Up 52-49 heading to the fourth, M-CHS came out of the quarter break cold, and Bayfield capitalized, building a lead behind a three from senior Max Meyers. Queen added another basket to build the lead to 57-52, prompting an M-CHS timeout.
“We told the guys in the huddle that we just need to chip away,” said Hall, “and our boys kept their composure.”
From there, Wood came up big again, driving to the bucket for points, either through field goals or free throws, before M-CHS took the lead for good on a Wheat transition bucket. Wood – who made 12 of the 13 Panther free throws – iced the game as the Panthers moved back within a game of .500.
“We figured out how to finish today,” said Hall after the team’s win, “The guys hit some big shots down the stretch.”
A day after dropping a heartbreaker to Pagosa Springs, 44-39, the Panthers executed under the pressure of a big rivalry game.
A new career high for Wood – 33 points – included three triples, while Wheat’s 15 points proved indispensable in the M-CHS late comeback. Senior Gabriel Crowley chipped in with seven points in the win.
“They (Bayfield) are so much bigger than us,” said Hall of Wood’s big game, “which means that they have to have a big guy having to guard him, and Austin’s so quick, he was able to take advantage.”
Bayfield’s Queen also posted a career-best with 29 points, joined by Williams’ dozen markers as the players in double figures.
With a week to prepare, M-CHS now turns their focus to a tough road trip to the San Luis Valley this weekend, where the Panthers will face Alamosa (Friday) and Centauri (Saturday) – a pair of state ranked opponents – for the second time this season. The next Panthers home game won’t be until Valentine’s Day, when they host Mancos for a highly anticipated duel.