Steve Lewis/Durango Herald
With their season hanging on the rim, the Wolverines turned to a trusted friend.
Trailing by eight points in the fourth quarter, the Bayfield High School girls basketball team used the helping hands of frenetic pressure defense to come from behind and stun Pagosa Springs 39-38 on Saturday night.
Bayfield senior Candace Shaw swished a free-throw-line jump shot with 11 seconds to play to complete the Wolverines’ most dramatic comeback of the season – giving the BHS girls (18-3) the championship of the Intermountain League District Tournament.
“It takes so many more plays than just one shot,” Shaw said. “It was everyone pulling together in those final minutes when we knew we had to shine.”
Pagosa Springs nearly celebrated its shining moment when sophomore Emily Bryant ran a back-door cut out of a timeout, converting a short layup to give the upstart Pirates a 38-37 lead with 18 seconds to play.
No. 3 Pagosa Springs had upset No. 2 Centauri on Friday night. And the Pirates, with momentum, had the No. 1 Wolverines hanging in the balance Saturday.
But the Wolverines quickly advanced the ball up the court to Shaw, who hit the game-winner without hesitation, drawing a deafening roar from the BHS fans who had endured a nervous championship game.
“We took some good shots at the right time down the stretch when we really had to have them,” Bayfield head coach Ronnie Posey said.
“That was senior leadership ... senior poise,” he said after the BHS girls likely earned a host designation for next weekend’s Class 3A regionals. Sites and pairings will be announced today.
“These girls don’t get rattled at all,” Posey said after the Wolverines played from behind – with foul trouble – for much of the game.
“Candace ... I bet she takes 50 of those shots a day. When it came down to it, she knew she was going to take (the shot),” Posey said.
The Wolverines tried to focus on defense after Pagosa Springs surged to a stunning 28-20 lead early in the fourth quarter of a previously low-scoring game.
“I didn’t feel like we were out of it, even down by eight points,” Posey said. “One stop and one basket. That’s what we preach.”
Shaw and the Wolverine congregation heard the sermon.
“We’re a surge team,” Shaw said. “We had to find a surge, and we had to get some stops.”
The stops came, and the surge followed – a staggering 17-4 run to erase that fourth-quarter deficit.
Tia Neeley started the rally with a steal for the pressing Wolverines.
Senior Kayla Strobel, who picked up three fouls in the first quarter and sat all of the second quarter, hit a no-conscience 3-pointer.
Shaw added a 3 from the left side after a steal by senior Taylor Harrison.
And the Wolverines never looked back.
“Taylor had an amazing defensive game,” said Shaw, who finished with a game-high 18 points. “Her hands were flying. That pressure was so effective.”
With Harrison’s pressure limiting the Pagosa guards’ ability to feed their post game, the Wolverines rallied.
“I think the more defensive pressure we have ... the more we’ll be able to come back in a game like this,” said Harrison, the daughter of Drayton and Trish Harrison.
“Defense can always keep us in there,” she said.
Pagosa Springs, like Bayfield, turned to defense in an effort to stop the IML regular-season champions.
With a full-court press of their own, the Pirates stymied the Wolverines early and led 17-16 at halftime.
But the pace ultimately changed with the Wolverines’ late surge, offsetting 14 points from Bryant and eight points each for Payton Shahan and Anissa Lucero.
Strobel added 11 points for the Wolverines. Neeley added five.
Two Pagosa Springs post players, Taylor Strohecker and Shahan, both fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“Hard driving and making them foul out really paid off,” said Shaw, the daughter of Carla and John Shaw.
Shaw and Strobel, meanwhile, managed to play extended minutes in the second half while carrying four fouls each.
“We knew we ... had to be out there. We couldn’t let our team down,” Shaw said. “Kayla and I talk about the mental game all the time. We talked ... that you can foul or you can choose to make the smarter play.”
Pagosa Springs (15-6) advances to regionals as the No. 2 team from the IML.
Centauri, with a 67-27 win over Monte Vista on Saturday, advances as the No. 3 team.