To say there was excitement in Delta High School's gymnasium last weekend would be an understatement supreme. The last trip to a state basketball tournament for the boys was in the late 1970's. The Panthers have been close several times but haven't gotten to the Elite 8 for a shot at a state title since the 1940's.
Bayfield came to last weekend's basketball regional in Delta with one thought; beat the Panthers. With four of last year's state 3A champions returning, the Wolverines (11-10) had visions of making the Panthers the first step in a repeat performance in 2019.
As a 28-seed in the regional bracket, Bayfield was matched against Delta (No. 5, 18-4) in the opening round in Delta. The Panthers withstood a poor second quarter to hold off a determined Bayfield squad for a 67-63 win in overtime.
On the other side of the boys' bracket, No. 12 Faith Christian (16-6) had to fight off a scrappy No. 21 team, Eaton (13-9) to earn a 57-54 decision for a shot at the title against Delta.
Delta 67, Bayfield 63
In the beginning Delta had momentum and found a rhythm and bolted to a 13-3 to finish the first quarter. Senior Kyle Mock had seven points for the Panthers and senior Andrew Baier had four.
Second quarter momentum swung to the Wolverines with Bryant Cuellar tossing in seven of the Wolverines 17 points in the quarter. Delta senior John Ames was four of six from the foul line and scored six points to help the Panthers maintain a four-point lead, 24-20, at halftime.
Play in the second half was an evenly played 16 minutes with each team scoring 43 points; 21 each in the third quarter and 22 each in the fourth.
Ames had 14 points in the second half to finish with 20 points and Mock had 11 to post 18 points. Senior Jonathan Robinson had 10 of his 15 points in the second half to give the Panthers three players with double figure scoring.
Bayfield senior Turner Kennedy poured in 15 points in the fourth quarter alone to lead a futile comeback bid for the Wolverines. Senior Hayden Farmer finished with 18 points in Bayfield's season-ending loss.
Delta 43, Eagles 38 OT
Delta's offense was stymied for three quarters of play by a stingy and savvy Faith Christian defense. Neither team had much offense with the Eagles taking an 18-14 lead to the locker room at halftime. Junior Jon Randall paced Faith Christian's offense with five points in the second quarter in an 11-6 run.
Tempo in the second half was slow enough to appease a tortoise and the Eagles found ways to generate a 7-4 advantage and a 25-18 lead with one quarter left to play.
Early in the fourth quarter Mock went to work on offense and scored seven points in Delta's 17-10 run to end regulation play with a 35-35 tie.
Mock wasn't the only Panther to clench his teeth and get busy. Robinson's 3-point goal deep in the left corner ignited momentum for Delta. His two free throws at 5:32 made the score 24-23 and the Eagles were making mistakes in pressure situations as the game progressed.
Faith Christian sophomore Graham Kroll was fouled and sank the double bonus free throws to push the Eagle's lead to 30-25.
Mock hit one of the game's biggest shots for Delta at the 2:58 mark when he buried a 3-pointer in front of the Panther's bench cutting Faith Christian's lead to 30-28. After a Faith Christian basket, Mock hit a short-range runner cutting the Eagle's lead to a deuce again, 32-30.
A missed 3-point attempt by Faith Christian allowed Delta to tie the game, 32-32, on a Mock tip-in with 1:18 left in the game.
A highly controversial technical foul was called on Mock during a jump ball situation. The Eagles eventually regained a three-point lead, 35-32, after free throws and a new possession.
The Panthers, though stunned by the turn of events, maintained their composure and got their chances at the free throw line as well. Junior Felipe Bedoy entered the game and connected on three of four foul shots to tie the game at 35-35. A missed last-second shot by Faith Christian forced the extra period of play.
Faith Christian senior Isiah Kroll scored the overtime's first points on a lay-in giving the Eagles a 37-35 lead. A short time later the Eagles picked up a free throw from senior Jacob Thielen to give Faith Christian another three-point lead, 38-35.
Robinson gave Delta faithful something to cheer about with his second three-point goal from the left corner again. Robinson's shot produced a thunderous celebration from partisan fans.
Junior guard Alexus Fausto came up with a loose ball on Faith Christian's next possession and spotted Mock ahead of the Eagle's defense and hit him with a long pass which resulted in an easy layup and a 40-38 lead for Delta, its first since a 13-12 lead in the first half. Another deafening roar from the crowd created added momentum for the Panthers.
Delta's final points of the game came at the free throw line after Mock was fouled two more times and converted three of four shots making the final score 43-38. Mock finished the game with 14 points and shared game-scoring honors with Faith Christian's Randall.
Mock was joined in double-digit scoring by Robinson and his 10 points.
Coach Rob Ames was ecstatic with the weekend and his team's accomplishments in the title game. "I'm so proud of these boys. I thought all four quarters we got the shots we wanted but nothing would roll our way: loose balls, deflections, good shots that would not fall ... all went to FCHS ... until the final quarter. We just kept pushing that big rock until it started moving, and then ... it all started going our way when it mattered most! What a team!"
Delta is in the Elite 8 this Thursday, March 7, and will face The Vanguard School at 10:15 a.m. A win Thursday bumps the Panthers to a 5:30 p.m. game against either No. 1 Lutheran, 19-5, or No. 8 DSST Stapleton, 19-4.
The 3A Boys State Championship game is set for March 9 at 6 p.m. All games are played at Denver University, March 7-9.