Playing their best basketball of the season, the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies swept the Greybull Buffaloes and the Riverside Rebels over the weekend and now sit atop the Five Rivers Conference standings at 3-0, tied with the Lovell Bulldogs.
The turnaround actually started with a deflating loss. After taking it on the chin against St. Stephen’s in a “Friday the 13th” loss at home, coach Michael Simmons and his team had a long talk after the game about how the team would respond.
“The St. Stephen’s game was a train wreck,” Simmons said. “In the locker room after the game, things were said. It was a wakeup call. It was a time when the program could go in different directions.”
The players chose “up.”
Playing well in a 65-55 loss at Wyoming Indian, the Grizz then practiced well last week and it turned into a strong performance at fifth-ranked Greybull Thursday night with the Grizz winning 54-50.
Saturday, the Grizz hosted the Riverside Rebels for another conference game and won 48-39 after dominating the first half.
“We had a good week of practice,” Simmons said. “Coach Jeff Samson scrimmaged with the kids to give them more size to look at. It was one of those weeks of practice where you could tell the kids were willing to do whatever they needed to do. You try to get there every year. We got there last week in practice.”
Thursday, the Grizz hung around early, then took charge of the game early in the second period. Greybull fought back to tie the score after three quarters, but the Grizzlies made the plays down the stretch to win.
Rocky junior Bryce Ward answered an early Neil Getzfreid three-point play with a trey from beyond the arc, and after Greybull went up 7-3, the Grizz responded with a 6-1 run to close the quarter up 9-8, then extended the run to 15-3 early in the second quarter.
Freshman Bill Despain came off the bench to convert a steal into a fast-break bucket, then knocked down a trey to cap the run as Rocky led 18-10. Derik Romero added 4 points to the effort. Greybull trimmed the lead to three, and the two teams traded baskets the rest of the way as Rocky led at halftime, 24-21.
Consecutive three-pointers by Ward put Rocky up 34-28 three minutes into the third, but Ward then picked up two quick fouls and had to sit down. Michael Bernhisel stole the ball and drove for two, then Despain hit a trey as Rocky led 39-32, but Greybull clawed back thanks to the efforts of senior Austin Frazier to tie the score 39-39 after three.
Bernhisel started the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, then found Joey Jewell for two as Rocky quickly built a 45-39 lead, then held a 48-43 lead with a little more than two minutes left. A Frazier drive cut the margin to two, 50-48, with 48 seconds left, but Bernhisel calmly sank two free throws and after two at the line by Frazier, Bernhisel beat the press and found a streaking Cannon Simmons for the clinching basket.
Coach Simmons said the win was a strong team effort both offensively and defensively. He liked the fact that every player who got into the game scored, but he also noted the defense the Grizzlies played.
“At the end of the day our defensive intensity is what we have to live on,” he said. “We can’t out-size anybody. We have to work harder. We’re closer to the ground, so we should pick up loose balls.”
With only one senior now on the squad (Romero), younger players are stepping up, too, Simmons said.
“For the freshmen (Despain, Cannon Simmons and Kirby Winland), it was their first kind of bigger stage, and they responded,” he said.
Ward finished with 15 points, and Despain added 8 points and eight rebounds, Romero 8 points and four assists, Bernhisel 7 points, six rebounds and five steals and Simmons 7 points, as well. Winland had 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
The box score:
Michael Bernhisel 2 2-6 7, Shane Wocicki 1 2-2 4, Joey Jewell 1 0-0 2, Bill Despain 3 0-0 8, Kirby Winland 1 1-2 3, Derik Romero 3 2-3 8, Cannon Simmons 2 3-4 7, Bryce Ward 5 2-3 15. Totals 18 12-20 54.
Payton Gonzales 0 0-1 0, Austin Frazier 6 7-13 20, Wyatt Good 1 2-3 4, Kason Clutter 1 0-0 2, Travis Sylvester 3 0-1 6, Paul Stewart 0 2-4 2, Neil Getzfreid 3 3-3 9, Hayden Goton 1 1-2 3, Brady Shoemaker 1 2-2 4. Totals 16 17-29 50.
Rocky 9 15 15 15 – 54
Greybull 8 13 18 11 – 50
Three-point field goals – Ward 3, Despain 2, Bernhisel 1; Frazier 1. Fouled out – Wocicki; Sylvester. Total fouls – Rocky 25, Greybull 19.
Saturday afternoon at home, the Grizzlies mauled the Riverside Rebels in a game that really wasn’t as close as the final score makes it seem. Riverside led 2-0, then scored only 1 more point for the better part of 12 minutes, Simmons said. Rocky built a 10-3 lead after the first quarter, then scored the first 18 points of the second quarter to lead 28-3, Simmons said, as the Grizz took care of business.
“It was a very quiet locker room before the game,” he said. “It was the businesslike demeanor that I love. I like the quiet before the storm and leaving the excitement for the game, not in the locker room. The kids were very focused. We talked about, as big as the Greybull win was, if they lose to Riverside at home, it undoes what they accomplished Thursday.”
Trailing by 25 points, Riverside made a run late in the half to cut the halftime margin to 19, 31-12. Rocky led 40-19 after three, and Riverside battled back to outscore the Grizz 20-8 in the final quarter.
Simmons said he was pleased with his team’s defensive effort against big Brynnt Wood. Although the big senior finished with 16 points, 10 came in the final quarter.
“Kirby contested his shots and they had lots of turnovers trying to get the ball in to Wood,” Simmons noted. “In the fourth, we lost our intensity with ball pressure, and once he gets the ball on the block…”
Bernhisel led the Grizz with 13 points and four assists. Ward added 8 points, Romero 8 points and five steals, Wocicki 7 points and Winland 5 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
The box score:
Clint Getzfreid 1 0-0 2, James Anderson 0 0-0 0, Jordan Herman 3 2-5 8, Mike Miller 1 5-10 7, Bryce Johnson 0 0-0 0, Brynnt Wood 8 0-1 16, Oz DeNiz 3 0-0 6. Totals 16 7-16 39.
Xavier Mangus 0 0-0 0, Michael Bernhisel 4 2-2 13, Shane Wocicki 3 0-0 7, Joey Jewell 0 0-0 0, Bill Despain 1 1-3 3, Kirby Winland 2 1-2 5, Derik Romero 3 1-4 8, Cannon Simmons 2 0-0 4, Bryce Ward 3 0-0 8. Totals 18 5-11 48.
Riverside 3 9 7 20 – 39
Rocky 10 21 9 8 – 48
Three-point field goals – Bernhisel 3, Ward 2, Wocicki 1, Romero 1. Fouled out – Johnson. Total fouls – Riverside 15, Rocky 18.
Bulldogs to town
Now 6-7, the Grizzlies will host the Lovell Bulldogs tonight (Thursday) at 4 (JV) and 7 p.m. Lovell is 10-2 and ranked number one in the state, but both the Grizz and Bulldogs are 3-0 in the conference.
“Greybull had good guards, Basin (Riverside) had good bigs, but Lovell has both,” Simmons said. “We saw a lot of 2-3 zone between Greybull and Basin, but Lovell will play plenty of man. They’ll get up in us. We give up a couple of inches at lots of positions.
“Like most Rocky-Lovell games, it will be exciting. They always are. The games are fun. I hope we have a good week of practice. It will be a fun basketball game and will be for first in the conference. I can’t think of anything better to do on a Thursday night.”
Simmons said there are few secrets between the two foes just a few miles apart.
“I’ve been here 15 years, and I know 95 percent of the Lovell kids. There are not a lot of secrets. It comes down to who will work the hardest and who makes a couple of shots,” he said.
Saturday, the Grizz host the Big Horn Rams at 1 and 4 p.m. The Rams are the defending state champions, going undefeated a year ago, but they lost a lot of their height to graduation and are 8-7 on the season, 3-2 in the 2A Northeast.
By David Peck