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Bayfield High School responds to No. 7 Pagosa’s challenge

Wolverines prevail on the road in four
Bayfield's Annie Fusco (8) skies to place a shot over Pagosa Springs' Lynelle Bartz during 3A Intermountain League road action Tuesday at Pagosa Springs High School. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

PAGOSA SPRINGS – One could almost hear hearts lodge in the throats of Pirate basketball backers even louder than those of Pagosa Springs volleyball’s loyalists when Molly Graham crumpled to the court early in Game 3 of Tuesday night’s showdown at home versus Intermountain League nemesis Bayfield.

Battling for a ball at the net, the big senior clearly rolled her left ankle and could not immediately rise to her feet as play continued around her until being stopped by the officials when it was evident Graham required assistance. But with the match tied at one game apiece and the visitors already resuming a vicious pace which had just claimed Game 2—BHS had closed it out on an 11-1 run—there was little time for PSHS to dwell on the personnel loss.

“Obviously she’s a strong player and we want her back as soon as possible,” head coach Caitlin Forrest said afterwards. “Sounds like she has just a sprain, so I’m not too worried; I didn’t feel like her sitting out impacted us too much.”

Indeed, with six-foot junior Beatrice Carpenter ready to come off the bench, the CHSAANow.com Class 3A rankings’ No. 7 squad lost virtually nothing height-wise—meaning the Wolverines, the poll’s highest ‘Others Receiving Votes’ crew, still had to contend with a front line as formidable as what they’d faced a few days before at the Lewis-Palmer Invitational.

Relying on seniors Annie Fusco and Emily Nelson to pack a punch from the outside, plus junior Kenasea Byrd to hold down the middle while also sliding wide to hammer Sage Killough back-sets cross-court, Bayfield managed to expand their 6-3 lead to 16-9. And after Kori Jenkins netted a serve and Fusco tipped a ball into the strings, BHS took advantage of a netted Ava Pargin serve and went on a clinching 9-0 run capped off by two Fusco aces plus a Nelson/Byrd denial of Carpenter.

Bayfield's Emily Nelson (9) goes for a block against Pagosa Springs' Lynelle Bartz (5) during 3A Intermountain League road action on Tuesday. BHS went on to win the match, 3-1. (Joel Priest/Special to the Herald)

“We talked in the timeouts about responding under pressure,” said BHS head coach Terene Foutz. “Ignore the noise, ignore the last kill and respond. I think in the last half of that first set they were starting to prove to themselves they could do it.”

“They were sheepish at first,” she continued. “I think we were down like 18 to 9 [17-9, in fact] or something pretty crucial, and we built ourselves back up.”

Having climbed out of the aforementioned, error-filled hole to eventually tie Game 1 at 20, 21 and 22 before a Nelson spike against a PSHS double-block went into the net on game point, Bayfield entered Game 4 having recovered from the opening 25-23 setback with consecutive 25-11 triumphs appearing to insist which team would ultimately leave the gym victorious.

A harsh Carpenter kill of an Audrey Martin set, however, not only got Game 4 underway but also sent a reminder that the Pirates had started fall 2021 with eight wins in as many matches. Able to effectively trade points with Bayfield, Pagosa Springs managed to go up 8-7 before Nelson pounded a line kill. BHS then scored with a block, regaining the upper hand as the score subsequently see-sawed to 11-10.

“We knew we had to respect what the opposite team had to bring,” said Forrest. “We knew they’d come back from some tough matches playing 4A teams, so we knew it was going to be a challenging night.”

Jenkins fired an ace to put the Wolverines up by two, but despite multiple Fusco and Nelson put-aways Bayfield’s lead never exceeded three points before the Pirates rallied to tie at 21-21 via tip shots by Pryscylla Howard and Kori Lucero plus a rejected BHS over-pass.

Nelson countered with a go-ahead kill and Killough zipped an ace off libero Keira Torrez, pressing Forrest into taking a timeout, hoping for one last match-prolonging push. It wouldn’t come; Nelson tooled a kill off Pargin to bring up match point, 24-21, and Byrd followed with a smash concluding the contest.

“We’re going to be working on our serve-receive passing for sure, and our blocking—we definitely need to step that up,” said Forrest, calling PSHS’ serve-receive ‘the weakest it’s been all season.’ “Our whole game plan going in was to stay humble, stay hungry…and I feel like that’s where we lacked a little bit. They weren’t as hungry as I wanted them to be.”

“Most of our lineup are great location servers,” Foutz said. “We foster it, we work on it, we know we have to…and I thought our serve was effective at keeping their ball in the backcourt; they couldn’t run their middles as much.”

Full individual statistics had not been tallied as of press time.

Up next, Pagosa Springs (8-1, 2-1 IML) will continue league work Saturday, in La Jara against Centauri (4-6, 0-1). Bayfield (6-5, 2-0), meanwhile, will see action the same day at Farmington, N.M., with the 5A Scorpions standing 6-3 overall following a 1-2 showing at 5A Santa Fe’s Sept. 10-11 Tournament of Champions.