The RPI’s eighth-ranked Buffalo boys entered the 1A State Championship Tournament in the March 2 second round with a 34-27 victory versus the ninth-ranked Monticello Buckaroos.
On Wednesday at 7 p.m., also in the Sevier Valley Center, they challenged the #1 Panguitch Bobcats to whom they’d fallen twice in regular season meetings. This time, the Valley brain-trust, which included Jake Millard and Nick Hoyt, employed a strategy that, as 35-year coaching veteran James “Jimbo” Hoyt recalls, garnered a surprising championship success ages ago for the squad from Enterprise. His son, Head Coach Owen, remembers the tactic from his youth as the “Kansas Stall,” installed by the Jayhawk’s legendary Coach Roy Williams.
Valley led 9-5 into the second quarter but remained scoreless to the Bobcats’ eight midway: 13-9. A mystifying atmosphere of suspense seemed to stymie the curious crowd as to why, when in catch-up mode, there hadn’t been more action other than a persistent dribbling by a somewhat slyly grinning point-guard, Layton Spencer, accompanied by an occasional lateral backcourt pass to Bret Heaton, while all ‘combatants’ stood around apparently visiting each other until Coach Hoyt motioned time-out at 2:59 on the clock. That’s when the fury of the contest commenced.
In the third stanza, more likewise followed Panguitch’s initial deuce, until a flurry of activity and a racing crosscourt buzzer-beating three-point perimeter thriller from a leaping MaCoy Harris: 15-12! Same story in the fourth frame when Layton deuced it from the top of the key, making it 15-14 with 1:26 to go. Then at 20:3, he fouled Kyler Bennet to get him to the line for a 1-and-1, of which he missed the second: 16-14! Under the Buffalos’ bucket, in a scuffle for the ball, the Bobcats’ Klyn Fullmer retrieved it and was soon fouled beyond center court by Bret, setting up the 18- 14 grand-finale.
“Panguitch is a great team!” began Coach Owen’s explanation of the game’s tactical scheme. “They play good defense; they’re big; they’re physical. The goal for us was to get them to come out and guard us. And once they came out and guarded us, we were going to try and get by them with our speed and try to get to the hoop.
“In the first half, they came out and guarded us, and it went our way. In the second half, they didn’t. And so, my strategy was to hold it down to three minutes or so, and then make it a ball game when it was a one-possession game. I told the boys: ‘We have the ball with 20-seconds down with a chance to hit a shot to go to the semi-finals, and I’ll take that any day!’
In the first consolation match with the #5 Whitehorse Raiders, Valley won handily, 62-33, behind MaCoy’s 28-point, four trey, broadside along with Tait Bettridge’s decade. Vying for fifth-place honors versus the sixth-ranked Tabiona Tigers, although lagging 21-18 at halftime, the Buffs prevailed in the see-saw saga, steel-nerving across the beam behind a balanced attack of 12 each by Bettridge and Harris, in addition to Spencer’s 11, for the 45-44 sensational settlement.
“I’m proud of our boys: they executed our plan perfectly,” said Coach-O in summation. “You know, a couple of bounces maybe go our way, and we’re on top! So, I’m very proud of our boys and the way they play.”
“You know, this has been a really great season in that the boys dealt with a lot of adversity. Had some very high-highs and some low-lows. Really good basketball and some not-so-good basketball. But, what I’m most proud of with these boys is: they were playing their very best at the end when it mattered most! You know, we had a chance at the end in that fourth-quarter final to maybe do something ‘spectacular!’ Didn’t go our way. But we finished out the tournament in the top five. And I’m very proud of the work that our boys put in.”