COLORADO SPRINGS — St. Mary's typically operates that a pace that would make a coyote-evading road runner jealous. So in order to capture the Class 3A boys basketball state championship, Lutheran had to slow down the Pirates and limit the damage that junior Sam Howery could do.
With plenty of options at his disposal, coach Bill Brandsma opted for perhaps the most unconventional. He called on 6-foot-11 center Baye Fall to take on the Pirates' sharpshooting point guard.
The gamble paid off.
Howery held well below his season average as the Lions (16-1 overall) beat the top-seeded Pirates 72-56 to capture the 3A boys basketball championship.
"I respected him, knowing that he's a good player and he can get it going," Fall said. (I had to) be aggressive against him, not let him catch the ball at times and just guard him full.
Fall scored 12 points and was one of four Lions to score in double figures, but his ability to slow down Howery's production will go down as a big reason why they were able to clutch that gold trophy.
"Baye moves like a big-time DI athlete," Brandsma said. "The speed doesn't bother him but the length bothers the guard."
Lutheran held a 15-12 lead after the first quarter but St. Mary's (16-1) rallied to take a 27-24 lead at the half. The second quarter moved at a pace that St. Mary's was much more comfortable with and the Lions knew that they had to make some changes in the second half.
"We had to control tempo and not turn the ball over and we didn't do a good job of that in the first half," Brandsma said. "They went on their runs because we let them dictate tempo so for us to get down and come back and own the tempo was good for us."
Tommy Apodaca and Sam Hoops paced the Lions, scoring 22 and 12 points, respectively brought the leadership from the guard position that Brandsma needed his team to rely on. Mamadou Sow was also a big-time factor with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Sow, Hoops and Fall all recorded double-doubles for the Lions providing the balance needed to win the state title.
"(St. Mary's) had balance and with so many things going on, we needed guys who could finish at the rim," Brandsma said. "We needed guys to knock down their free throws and that's what we got."
Luke Stockelman scored 11 of his 17 points in the first half when St. Mary's took the lead. Howery led the Pirates with 20.
This is the fourth boys basketball championship for Lutheran and the first since the Denver Lutheran the Lutheran Parker campuses merged to form one school. The last state title came in 2011 when the then-split schools met for the 2A title. Denver Lutheran won 61-48.
Lutheran last played in the 2018 championship game, but lost to Bayfield 68-57.
The search for the first boys basketball title for St. Mary's will have to continue. This was the first state title game in school history for the Pirates. They averaged nearly 90 points per game during the season before Lutheran held them to just 56.
And the feeling of slowing down a talented, fast-paced team combined with holding a championship trophy was everything the Lions hoped it would be.
"It was the best feeling ever," Fall said. "This is my first time being a state champion. It's big. I love Lutheran. I did this for them. My teammates and coaches always got me."