Steamboat Springs It’s been said a lot in the Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball program: Stay the course, weather the storm and trust what got you here.
And most of all, never let a moment be too big to overcome or too small to brush aside.
So when Sierra’s Anthony Gates tucked the ball against his left hip with four minutes to go in a 31-31 tie game in the state playoffs first round, no one on Steamboat’s roster panicked.
Gates and the Stallions held the ball just past halfcourt for the final four minutes, taking full advantage of Colorado’s no-shot-clock rule, watching the minutes and seconds tick away.
But instead of getting flustered in the moment, the Sailors did what they have preached all year — “hang our hat on our defense,” as Steamboat coach Luke DeWolfe so often puts it.
The Stallions, stifled by the Sailors’ defense, never got a shot off at the end of regulation. Then, Sierra tried the same tactic in the first overtime, again to no avail, as double overtime began with a 33-33 stalemate.
In the final four minutes, Steamboat senior Zach Dunklin nailed a 3-point shot to break the tie, a bucket that Sierra’s Tevion Thompson answered from deep a possession later.
But this time, with just four seconds left in double overtime, Steamboat had its shot to end it, and junior center Garrett Bye snagged a Carter Kounovsky miss and flushed in the final two points of the game.
Steamboat 40, Sierra 38. The Sailors advance in the state playoffs.
“It’s weathering the storm, but at the same time, it’s not just weathering it when you get into overtime,” DeWolfe said. “It’s executing and believing in your game plan.”
It was a defense-dominated game from the get-go, as Steamboat took a 10-7 first-quarter lead and pushed it to a 17-12 halftime margin.
But third-quarter foul trouble from Kounovsky — Steamboat’s leading scorer at 10.7 points per game — and Bye down low let the Stallions creep back into it. The Sailors held just a three-point lead heading into the final period.
And when Sierra finally tied things up with five minutes to go and implemented its keep-away approach, DeWolfe knew his squad wouldn’t let a state playoff home game slip away that easily.
“At that point, I definitely didn’t want to foul,” DeWolfe said about the final four minutes. “I didn’t want to give them free points when it’s tied. I wanted them to earn the basket they wanted to beat us.”
The packed house and especially rowdy student section at Kelly Meek Gymnasium undoubtedly will remember Bye’s final-seconds heroics — a right place, right time moment.
Junior Matthew Lanning, however, led all scorers with 15 points off the bench, all in the second half and many from the free-throw line in the game’s most pivotal moments.
It’s the depth DeWolfe has enjoyed all year, and hasn’t exactly enjoyed in previous seasons.
“We haven’t had that depth before,” DeWolfe said. “To have that tonight shows a lot when you come away with a win.”
Kounovsky scored six points and dished out two assists in his final game at home. Dunklin’s only three points came from his double-overtime bucket. He, too, played his final home game of his Steamboat career.
“It’s nice for me and Carter to go out with at least one playoff win,” Dunklin said. “It shows what these guys will do next year. These fans are incredible. I’ve never been around that.”
The court-storming celebration that ensued after the double-overtime thriller won’t be a party that lasts for long, though.
Steamboat has Thursday off before traveling to No. 2 seed Sand Creek, a top-five squad in 4A that enjoyed a first-round bye.
“We will be a lower seed playing a top seed,” DeWolfe said. “It’s a four-team tournament going into it. There are four teams at a location, and you have to win two to win the tournament.”
Tipoff is at 8 p.m. Friday.
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll
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