Hayden Going into the Hayden High School boys basketball locker room after their overtime game Saturday against North Park, things look like the emergency room wing at the hospital.
Players are sprawled out on the floor. They are tired from the night before, a two-point, nail-biting win against cross-county rival Soroco.
They also are tired because the Tigers — all five of them in uniform — just went toe to toe with North Park for four quarters and some change, squeaking out a 55-49 overtime win.
Suddenly, Hayden has risen from the dead, going from a 1-14 season to winners of four straight league games.
With the win against North Park on Saturday, the Tigers also did what looked unthinkable just a few weeks ago. They moved up in the district rankings, jumping from the No. 7 seed to the No. 6 seed when tournament play begins Tuesday, a monumental feat, all things considered.
The Tigers’ success is coming in a variety of ways with their bare-bones roster. On Friday night at Soroco, it was a slow-it-down approach, fueled by senior Isaac Bridges’ 18 points.
On Saturday against North Park, the players utilized a drive-and-dish approach, riding the shoulders of seniors Dan Engle and Greg Frentress to victory while Bridges saw multiple double teams.
Engle finished the game with a triple-double, scoring 15 points, dealing 10 assists and snagging 10 rebounds. Most of Engle’s 10 assists went Frentress’ way, as he scored a game-high 25 points.
The three seniors are among Hayden’s five players who are just flat-out tired after playing their final game at home, Tigers coach Mike Luppes said. But they also are the engine that has Hayden on one of the hottest streaks of any team in its district at the perfect time.
“Greg is just tired,” Luppes said. “He’s the one that is really toasted right now. He’s been playing so well. His rebounding has just been phenomenal for us. He’s getting more and more confidence taking it to the hole. That’s critical for us.”
North Park, however, never let Hayden catch its breath in the game. The Wildcats used a platoon system, emptying the bench every so often to give their starters a breather while the Tigers slouched, hands on knees in the game’s final minutes.
North Park chewed away at Hayden’s lead, which was as much as eight points in the third quarter. The Wildcats cut it to four with four minutes left, and two with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
Finally, North Park’s Will Hutcheson knotted it up at 44-all in the waning moments.
Then, not more than a minute after the overtime tip-off, the Engle-Frentress duo went to work and stifled the Wildcats on the other end. Hayden outscored North Park, 8-3, in the final minutes to improve to 4-14 on a season that couldn't have looked farther than championship caliber at one point.
“I’ve been playing with Greg since third grade,” Engle said, calling Hayden’s sudden run of success “awesome.” “I know where he will be. If I make a bad pass, I apologize because that’s on me. I just know he’s there. We have a thing going.”
And Luppes hopes that “thing” spills over into Tuesday.
With Hayden’s four-game winning streak, the Tigers jumped Soroco for the No. 6 seed and avoided a district tournament play-in game at Paonia, the league’s top dog. Instead, Hayden will travel to Rangely, a squad it felt like it should have beaten in its last meeting Jan. 31.
“It’s pretty big,” Engle said about moving up in the district rankings. “I think we are going to do pretty well against Rangely. Paonia is a powerhouse, but I think we can beat Rangely. We’re looking forward to going in there and proving ourselves.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll