Hayden's Paul Laliberte rushes down the court Friday late in the Tigers' win against Montrose in the Steamboat SpringsShoot-Out. Hayden led big but had to hold on late. That did little to damped the excitement as Hayden, the smallest school in the tournament, earned a chance to play for the championship at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Photo by Joel Reichenberger

Hayden's Paul Laliberte rushes down the court Friday late in the Tigers' win against Montrose in the Steamboat SpringsShoot-Out. Hayden led big but had to hold on late. That did little to damped the excitement as Hayden, the smallest school in the tournament, earned a chance to play for the championship at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Well hello, Hayden: Tigers run to Shoot-Out title game

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— For it to be a David vs. Goliath story, one has to accept that the Hayden High School boys basketball team is David.

The evidence is there.

The Tigers hail from the smallest school competing this weekend at the Steamboat Springs Shoot-Out, and that’s not even close. Hayden’s entire enrollment is smaller than any single class at any of the other Colorado schools in the boys bracket.

The boys and their coach, Mike Luppes, are happy to allow teams to buy into that, to assume that a game will be easy because Hayden’s a small town and its high school doesn’t have many students.

“Hopefully, they are overlooking us,” junior point guard Isaac Bridges said.

It’s their game on the court that sells them out, however.

Hayden has run through the Shoot-Out, beating Class 4A Montrose, 66-64, on Friday by playing more like Goliath than David. Now, the Tigers will play for the championship at 4 p.m. Saturday against true big-class heavyweight D’Evelyn, the No. 4 Class 4A team in The Denver Post’s preseason poll.

“This is what we were hoping for,” coach Mike Luppes said. “We feel like we can play with a lot of the people in the state. No one knows we’re around, and that’s OK with us. We’ll take it that way.”

There was nothing small about Hayden’s game Friday. It pulled out a thriller, surviving several point-blank attempts in the waning seconds to escape after having given up a fat second-half lead.

Hayden led by as much as 17 points, that gap built after a furious end to the third quarter.

Montrose closed to within eight, but Jorge Valdez found Aaron Cramer for an easy bucket to make it 10 again. Paul Laliberte then dished two assists, first hitting Valdez for a basket, then Mark Doolin for another, making it 48-36.

Laliberte drained a 3-point shot, and Valdez added two more points by putting back an offensive rebound, setting the score at 53-36.

When they Tigers were on, they were fantastic. Valdez had 13 points to go with 12 boards. Laliberte finished with 17 points, but Doolin was even better with eight rebounds and a team-high 18 points.

He had four 3-point shots in the first half.

“Mark’s a shooter, and when he gets that confidence in his shot, he’s extremely tough from outside,” Luppes said. “We like when he’s firing like that because he’s capable of runs like that all the time.”

Hayden never did manage a knockout blow, and the team almost payed big. Montrose senior Donovan Kattner also scored 18, finding big shots to answer every Hayden surge down the stretch.

Laliberte sank three of four free throws in the last 45 seconds, helping build a five-point lead. The Indians’ Benton Cruz nailed a 3-point shot with 8 seconds remaining; however, and Montrose stole Hayden’s inbound pass, suddenly two feet from the hoop with a chance to tie. It missed two shots before Valdez finally grabbed a rebound and secured the victory.

“That was scary,” Bridges said.

He went on to admit even he’s been surprised by Hayden’s run, but now that they're in the championship game, there's only one focus.

“We came into the tournament hoping to be 2-1,” he said, “but now we’re hoping to win it.”

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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