By David Peck
It was all a high school basketball fan could ask for as the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies traveled to Lovell to meet the Lovell Bulldogs in the first of two regular season games between the two rivals Friday night.
Both teams played hard, shot the ball well at times, ran the fast break and played aggressive defense. The result was a game that nearly went down to the wire before Lovell pulled away at the end for a 52-40 win.
“We played hard and did a lot of really good things,” Rocky coach Michael Simmons said. “The kids executed the game plan we put in front of them and did a pretty good job executing for most of the game. We shot the ball well and defended Cody (Savage) better than we did in years past.
“Bryce (Ward) shot the ball extremely well (13 points), though we would like to get him to the free-throw line more. As a team we got to the line once. We want to attack and most weeks one of our goals is 20 free-throw attempts. We obviously didn’t get that accomplished (with two attempts).”
For his part, Lovell coach Brian May said he was pleased with his team’s defensive effort except when it came to leaving the Grizzlies open for some three-pointers.
“The only way they could stay in the game was with three-point shots, and I felt if we could do a better job and not allow open threes we would eventually win the game,” May said. Rocky Mountain knocked down four treys in the first half, three by Ward, two in the second half.
Both coaches felt they did a good job against the other team’s strength.
“We were doubling down on Cody with our guards to force him to pass the ball back out, and for a while we were forcing them to shoot 15-foot jumpers,” Simmons said. “I was very pleased with that defense.”
Savage did lead Lovell with 18 points, hitting eight of 13 shots from the field.
Countering, May said the Bulldogs did a good job slowing the Grizzlies’ running game.
“They like to get up and down the court and I felt we did a good job slowing them down,” May said. “They really had to work hard offensively. The kids set a goal of holding them to 35 points, and our kids were really pleased to be able to hold them 17 points below their average of 57 points per game.”
The Grizz came into the packed house at the Johnny Winterholler Gym and looked a little nervous early as the Bulldogs built an early 8-0 lead on two baskets each by Savage and Ryan Clark. Michael Bernhisel broke the ice for Rocky with a drive, and Lovell went on to lead 15-9 at the quarter break.
“We didn’t play a great first couple of minutes, but I was pleased with the way we fought back from that,” Simmons said. “We outscored them 9-7 after that and 15-11 in the second quarter.”
After Savage scored on an in-bounds play to give Lovell a 17-9 lead two minutes into the second quarter, Rocky scored 12 of the next 17 points to pull close at 22-21. Ward hit two treys during the run. Lovell went up 26-21 on buckets by Savage and Austin Ellis, but a trey by Shane Wocicki at the buzzer kept Rocky in the hunt trailing 26-24 at intermission.
The teams mostly traded baskets in the third quarter, and after Bill Despain drained a three-pointer to pull the Grizz within one point at 34-33, Kade Nicholls answered with a trey at the other end to put Lovell up 37-33 after three.
Midway through the fourth quarter a put-back by Joey Jewell and a jumper by Kirby Winland pulled Rocky close at 39-37, but Lovell went on an 11-point run to lead 50-37, forcing the Grizzlies to foul to stop the clock. Despain hit a late trey, but Lovell hit seven of nine foul shots in the final minute and a half.
“We’ve been emphasizing defensive effort, making sure we’re getting through screens and not allowing kids to get around screens open so they can catch and shoot the ball,” May said. “We were able to play excellent defense and for the most part boxed out and limited them to one shot.”
“This was a great learning experience for the kids,” Simmons said. “We hope we can go from there and make a few adjustments, though not many.”
Clark joined Savage in double figures with 13 points, and he pulled down 15 rebounds.
“One of the things we’ve been talking about is Ryan Clark being more assertive at both ends of the floor with scoring and rebounding,” May said. “That makes us a much better team.”
Dylan Hultgren added 7 points, and though he struggled shooting the ball he did have seven assists. Nicholls finished with 6 points, Ellis 4. Savage grabbed eight rebounds, Ellis seven.
For the Grizz, Despain joined Ward in double figures with 10 points, and Winland added 8 points and four blocked shots, Bernhisel 4 points, four rebounds and five assists.
Lovell won the junior varsity game 60-36, leading 31-24 at the half and then pulling away with a 20-3 third-quarter advantage led by Nic Haskell with 6 points.
CJ Murphey finished with 13 points for Lovell, Haskell 11, Mysen McArthur and Seth Kite 10 points each, Jacob Adey 5, Morgan May 3, Dylan Ohman, Beau Green, Dylan See and Aaron Monterde 2 apiece.
Tanner Coleman led Rocky with 10 points, and Caleb Horrocks and John Higgins scored 8 points each, Cole Wambeke 5, Cordell McFarlane 3 and Xavier Mangus 2.
The varsity box score:
Joey Jewell 1 0-0 2, Michael Bernhisel 2 0-0 4, Shane Wocicki 1 0-2 3, Bill Despain 4 0-0 10, Kirby Winland 4 0-0 8, Cannon Simmons 0 0-0 0, Bryce Ward 5 0-0 13. Totals 17 0-2 40.
Chase Tippetts 0 0-0 0, Brandon Wolvington 0 2-3 2, Calin McArthur 1 0-0 2, Dylan Hultgren 1 5-6 7, Kade Nicholls 2 0-0 6, Austin Ellis 2 0-0 4, Ryan Clark 5 3-6 13, Cody Savage 8 2-2 18. Totals 19 12-17 52.
Rocky 9 15 9 7 – 40
Lovell 15 11 11 15 – 52
Three-point field goals – Ward 3, Despain 2, Wocicki 1; Nicholls 2. Fouled out – Savage. Total fouls – Rocky 15, Lovell 12.