Steamboat Springs When Steamboat Springs High School center Garrett Bye grabbed a pass in the lane with three minutes left in Friday night’s game, took a few steps and then wrecked the rim with an emphatic dunk, the Sailors bench and the packed gym knew it meant more than two points.
Bye’s slam gave the Sailors a 57-47 lead, and the smiles from Steamboat’s bench, their coach Luke DeWolfs and the wild crowd meant one thing Friday night — their team is playing in its home tournament championship on Saturday.
The 6-foot-9 center’s bring-down-the house play was what a lot of the standing-room-only crowd will remember, but performances by two Steamboat players – a familiar face and an unlikely hero – made the difference in the Sailors’ 68-55 win over Montrose.
Senior Carter Kounovsky, Steamboat’s leading scorer this year, poured in a game-high 23 points and five rebounds, but it was the off-the-bench play of junior Matthew Lanning that helped the Sailors improve to 5-0. Lanning poured in 18 points, snagged four rebounds and earned the respect from his teammates and coaches for his all-around play.
“Matt’s blocks and rebounds to me were even more key than some of the baskets he was able to hit,” DeWolfe said. “To have Matt come off the bench and be a defensive presence against a strong, physical team goes a very long way.”
Steamboat came out with 12-9 lead after one quarter in the Steamboat Springs Shoot-Out's second-round game. The Sailors then amassed a 24-13 halftime lead, with free throws the only thing keeping the Indians in the contest.
“There were a lot of guys stepping up tonight,” Lanning said. “We put in a lot of hard work in the off-season, spent the time in the gym and the weight room to create opportunities.”
DeWolfe was expecting a chippy, physical game, and his players got it. With an enrollment twice the size of Steamboat's, Montrose presented the size and speed not seen in the tournament’s first round.
But when tempers flared on both sides and uncharacteristic sloppiness caused the points margin to narrow for the Sailors, DeWolfe said team composure was key.
“We talk about staying in the moment, and if you make a mistake, it’s gone and you have to move on quickly,” DeWolfe said. “You can’t hang your head and feel sorry for yourself.”
Things won’t get any easier Saturday afternoon when the Sailors host Golden in the tournament's championship game. Golden knocked Steamboat out of the district tournament and ended the Sailors season last year, but a different prize is on the line Saturday — one that the Sailors have been seeking for quite some time.
“It would mean a lot if we won,” DeWolfe said. “We haven’t won this tournament I think in at least six years, so for our kids to do that would be big.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll