Having destroyed Kemmerer on Thursday and nearly upset Wyoming Indian Friday night, Saturday morning’s loss to Big Piney in a loser-out game at the regional tournament was a bitter pill to swallow for the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies, who were sent home without a state tournament berth.
For the second straight game the Grizzlies went into overtime – this time two overtime periods – and they battled hard before falling 72-69.
Coach Michael Simmons said the game was a typical Saturday morning contest, and coaches were concerned about physical, mental and emotional exhaustion after the previous night’s thriller. But he said after the Grizz shook off the cobwebs their demeanor and attitude were good, and they played with confidence.
Big Piney out-worked the Grizzlies early to gain a lead, Simmons said, but the Grizz fought back to trail by four at the quarter break, 14-10. Sophomore center Kirby Winland established himself inside with 6 points, and Jordan Sims fired in 9 for Big Piney.
Bryce Ward fired in a pair of three-points and he and Winland scored 6 points each, Shane Wocicki 5 in the second quarter as Rocky outscored Big Piney 17-15 to trail by two at the half, 29-27.
Ward continued his hot shooting in the third quarter and drained three treys plus a two-point basket, scoring all of Rocky’s 11 points, but Big Piney scored 18 to lead 47-38 after three. Freshmen JD Fear and Jordan Banks combined to score 11 points off the bench for the Punchers.
Trailing by nine, the Grizzlies clamped down on defense and held Big Piney to two baskets and12 points in the fourth quarter while rallying late to score 21 and send the game into overtime at 59-59. Winland had a big quarter, scoring 11 points.
“We started going back in to Kirby, and Kirby had a big quarter,” Simmons said. “Our pressure up in their face kind of rattled them. We made a big push under four minutes to go, created some turnovers and made some baskets. Cannon (Simmons) made a layup to tie it.”
Each team scored five points in the first overtime period. The Grizz tied it at 64 and Simmons intercepted a pass to give the Grizz a final shot, but the ball wouldn’t fall.
The two teams fought hard to win in the second overtime and traded baskets until a final fateful shot by Banks, who rose from about 35 feet and drained the game-winning three-pointer as time expired.
“The boys played their hearts out,” Simmons said. “They executed on offense and didn’t make a lot of mental mistakes. They just couldn’t get the ball to bounce the right way at the right time. You feel bad for those three seniors.
“Sometimes you make mistakes and don’t play well and feel you’ll learn from it, but I don’t ever remember a team I’ve been involved with that’s played that well (in a tournament) and has done so many good things but not get to go to State. That’s a hard thing as a coach to explain to kids.
“They played at a level that should have gotten them to the state tournament.”
Winland finished with 25 points on 12-of-17 shooting and had five rebounds and five steals. Ward finished with 17 points and five rebounds, Wocicki 14 points on five-of-seven shooting to go with six rebounds. Joey Jewell added 5 points and six boards, and Michael Bernhisel led the team with seven assists and four steals.
The Grizz shot well – 51 percent – and had 22 assists to only 15 turnovers.
The Grizz finished the season with a 12-12 record. Saturday’s game was the final contest for seniors Bernhisel, Wocicki and Ward.
The box score:
Joey Jewell 1 3-5 5, Michael Bernhisel 1 1-2 3, Shane Wocicki 5 4-5 14, Bill Despain 1 0-0 3, Kirby Winland 12 1-3 25, Cannon Simmons 1 0-0 2, Bryce Ward 6 0-0 17. Totals 27 9-15 69.
BIG PINEY (72)
Michael Howard 0 2-2 2, JD Fear 4 2-4 14, Jordan Sims 4 4-10 12, Luke Barron 0 0-0 0, Jordan Banks 5 4-4 18, Alma Stoutenburg 1 0-0 2, Nolan Jones 9 4-7 22, William Shafer 1 0-0 2. Totals 24 16-27 72.
Rocky 10 17 11 21 5 5 – 69
Big Piney 14 15 18 12 5 8 – 72
Three-point field goals – Ward 5, Despain 1; Fear 4, Banks 4. Fouled out – Despain, Winland. Total fouls – Rocky 24, Big Piney 16.
By David Peck