Five minutes after his team defeated Bayfield 74-71 in double overtime on Feb. 25, Montezuma-Cortez High School boys’ basketball coach Michael Hall stood in the hallway outside his team’s locker room and could still feel his heartbeat.
Not far away, junior Trinidad McDonell, who knocked down what turned out to be a game-winning 3-pointer with 22 seconds left in a second overtime period, sported a million-dollar smile while exchanging high-fives with teammates.
And inside the team’s locker room, the hero of the night, Austin Wood, sat and reflected on a game in which he scored a career-high 23 points and knocked down all eight of his free throws during the fourth quarter and overtime period to lift his underdog team.
“What I like about these kids is that they never stop,” said Hall, when asked about his team. I think a lot of it is that mentality that the older kids have because they have won and know what it takes to win. The young kids also have that mentality, they are super hungry.”
While the first three quarters of the contest were by no means short on highlights, the most exciting moments of the contest came after the start of a fourth quarter that began with Bayfield leading 47-41 and eventually saw the Bobcats stretch that lead to 50-41 with six minutes left.
With his team still trailing by nine points a minute later, Panthers junior J.T. Carver knocked down a 3-pointer to cut Bayfield’s lead to six points, and over the next four minutes, Wood drained three 3-pointers to make the score 57-54 with one minute to go.
“It was really a confidence thing,” said Wood. “Earlier in the year, I wasn’t too confident in my shot. I’ve been gaining confidence as the year has gone along.”
Still a big play away from tying the contest, M-CHS’s defense came through with a stop and the Panthers again Wood, who was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 27.6 seconds left and subsequently knocked down all three of his free throws to tie the game.
After a game-winning shot attempt by sophomore Elijah Lee glanced off of the rim as the regulation buzzer sounded, the team’s headed to overtime as fans for both sides found themselves on the edge of their seats.
Clutch baskets by several players, including M-CHS sophomore Sawyer Smith and Bayfield senior Kacey Chandler, made the score 63-63 before McDonell stepped to the line and knocked down what appeared to be game-winning free throws with 23 seconds left.
A pressure jump shot by Bayfield junior Isaac Ross with 7 seconds left staved off a Panthers win however, as a potential game winning shot by Wood spun off the iron after the M-CHS junior freed himself along the baseline for a good look at a reverse layup.
“Coach drew up a great play during the timeout,” Wood said. “I spun it too much and I couldn’t get it to go.”
As second overtime got underway and Bayfield starters Kacey Chandler and Landon Kennedy sat on their team’s bench with five fouls, heroes emerged for both sides as Smith scored to put M-CHS ahead 67-65 and Bayfield senior Zach McSweeney later hit a runner in the lane with 1:14 left to give his team a 69-68 lead.
Refusing to concede defeat however, M-CHS found McDonell open on the left wing with 32 seconds left and the unflappable junior did not pause before rising and knocking down a 3-pointer to put his team ahead 71-69.
“I knew I was going to shoot it,” McDonell said. “I had all the confidence in the world.”
Although Bayfield continued to battle until the final buzzer and had fans on their feet when a three-quarter court heave by Crosby Edwards went just wide of the rim, the Panthers were ultimately able to walk away with an upset victory that they will not soon be forgotten.
“It was fun for the kids to get to play that extra ball,” Hall said. “It’s fun for the crowd. It’s all around a good thing and it’s fun to walk out of here with a win.”
Leading scorers for the Panthers included Wood with 23 points, Smith with 16 points, Carver with 14 points and McDonell with nine.
Bayfield was led offensively by Kennedy with 21 points, Edwards with 14 points, and Boyle and Chandler with eight points each.
Now 2-10 overall and 1-5 in the Intermountain League, M-CHS will look to maintain momentum when it faces off against Pagosa Springs in Cortez on Feb. 27.
Bayfield will put its 4-5 overall record and 2-4 IML record on the line when it squares off against Alamosa at home on Feb. 27.