For about 25 minutes Thursday night, the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies went toe to toe with the top-ranked Lovell Bulldogs at the RMHS Gym in Cowley, but fourth-quarter doldrums doomed the Grizz as the Bulldogs pulled away to win 67-51.
Until the Grizz found a lid on the basket in the fourth, they battled the Bulldogs hard in a very entertaining game. The lead changed hands 10 times in the first three quarters, and was also tied five times as the two longtime rivals fought for control of the game.
The game was a contrast in styles. Lovell worked the ball inside to center Cody Savage early in the game, and the big junior scored the first four baskets of the game inside for the Bulldogs, then moved outside to drill a three-pointer as Lovell led 11-8 and then 13-8 on a Colin May drive.
“We knew we would definitely have an advantage with our bigs, Cody especially,” Lovell coach Brian May said. “The kids did a nice job. We tried a few new things. We set Cody up to come from different spots, to disguise where he was coming from and who was screening for him. We did a good job executing that and Cody wasn’t rushing. He was very comfortable and patient.”
Rocky coach Michael Bernhisel said, with his team’s height disadvantage, the Grizzlies once again used ball pressure out front to make it harder for Lovell to execute the entry pass to the post, knowing that the tactic also left freshman center Kirby Winland “on an island” inside against Savage.
“It was a good learning experience for Kirby,” Simmons said. “Kirby is a good player and is going to be a great player. He’s continuing to learn every week and is becoming more aggressive.
“Against every team we play we’re trying to create ball pressure…Lovell has good, disciplined guards and was able to work with that pressure more than other teams. Cody did a good job getting his shot up quickly and not allowing the double team to come.”
Rocky, meanwhile, facing a substantial disadvantage in size, went to the outside game and drained four treys in the first quarter including three straight, one by Michael Bernhisel and two by Derik Romero that put the Grizz up 17-13. A hook shot by Bulldog Morgan Baxendale cut the margin to two points at the quarter break, 17-15.
“We tried to spread it out,” Simmons said. “That’s our game plan – layups and threes. We were very successful for three quarters. We created some good looks from the outside. The young men did a great job doing that, and two to three Lovell players got into foul trouble early.”
Lovell started the second quarter with a 6-0 run to lead 21-17, but Cannon Simmons broke the string with a drive. Savage and Colin May countered with buckets for the Bulldogs, but a three-point play (basket and free throw) by Winland kept the Grizz close. Rocky outscored Lovell 7-2 down the stretch to tie the score at halftime, 29-29.
“Rocky really did a good job shooting the basketball, and that kind of kept them close,” May said. “What I liked about our team was, while they were hitting a lot of perimeter shots, they really didn’t extend their lead. We had some perimeter open looks, too, that didn’t fall for us in that game.
“I felt at times defensively, especially in the fist half, that we got caught in transition at times, leaving some open looks. And they knocked ‘em down. We concentrated in the second half on not allowing transition and leaving people wide open.”
The lead see-sawed back and forth early in the third quarter as Lovell went back inside to Savage and Rocky stayed hot from beyond the arc as Bernhisel, Ward and Romero each knocked down treys. Savage scored all of the points during a 6-2 burst for the Bulldogs, but baseline drives by Romero and Bill Despain kept the Grizz close, trailing 45-44. In the closing seconds of the quarter Dylan Hultgren worked inside for a Lovell basket and Romero hit one of two at the line for the Grizz as Lovell led 47-45 at the quarter break.
The fourth quarter was almost all Lovell. Cannon Simmons scored on a hustle play to match a McKayan May basket, but then the proverbial lid went on the basket for the Grizz and Lovell ripped off a 14-0 run to lead to lead 63-47, turning a nail-biter into a double-digit lead. Colin May scored 6 during the run, Savage 5 and Hultgren 3.
Bernhisel finally broke the ice for Rocky with a trey with about a minute and a half left in the game, but the damage had been done and Lovell went on to win 67-51.
“They missed some shots early in the fourth quarter, and we got the rebound and scored,” May said. “And we got to the foul line, which helped us.”
Simmons said he was pleased with his team’s defense and praised Derik Romero for doing a good job – spelled by Cannon Simmons – guarding Lovell leading scorer Colin May.
Overall, Coach Simmons said, the Grizz executed what the coaches drew up in the locker room.
“Everything we needed to do, they did,” Simmons said about his squad. “Our goal was to win the game, but there were some little short-term goals we did a very good job on, even with Cody having a career night.”
Down the stretch, he said, the Grizz missed some shots, missed some front ends of one-and-one free-throw opportunities, had some turnovers and had some mental breakdowns defensively, but overall, the Grizzlies executed the game plan and were in a position to win late into the game.
Savage had a monster game for the Bulldogs, finishing with 34 points and 14 rebounds. Colin May added 12 points and four assists, Dylan Hultgren 9 points and seven rebounds. As for the Grizzlies, Romero finished with 16 points, Bernhisel and Ward 9 each, Cannon Simmons 6. Ward and Winland pulled down six rebounds each.
The box score:
Colin May 4 4-5 12, Collin McArthur 0 1-2 1, Hunter Hinckley 0 0-0 0, McKayan May 2 1-2 5, Morgan Baxendale 2 0-0 4, Dylan Hultgren 2 5-6 9, Ryan Clark 1 0-0 2, Cody Savage 13 7-7 34. Totals 24 18-22 67.
Michael Bernhisel 3 0-2 9, Shane Wocicki 1 1-2 4, Joey Jewell 0 0-0 0, Bill Despain 1 0-0 2, Kirby Winland 1 3-3 5, Derik Romero 6 1-2 16, Cannon Simmons 2 2-3 6, Bryce Ward 3 1-3 9. Totals 17 8-15 51.
Lovell 15 14 18 20 – 67
Rocky 17 12 16 6 – 51
Three-point field goals – Savage 1; Bernhisel 3, Romero 3, Ward 2, Wocicki 1. Fouled out – Baxendale. Total fouls – Lovell 20, Rocky 20.
Lovell JVs win
Lovell won the junior varsity game 45-26, leading 19-16 at the half and then pulling away by outscoring the Grizz 26-10 in the second half.
Brandon Wolvington scored 13 points for the Bulldogs, Austin Ellis 7, Chase Tippetts 6, Calin McArthur 5, Mysen McArthur 4, Jacob Adey, Seth Kite and Morgan May 3 each, Aaron Monterde 1.
For the Grizz, Joey Jewell scored 13, Bill Despain and Cannon Simmons 5 each, Jordan Arnold 2 and Darren Brumwell 1.
By David Peck