The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies were in the spotlight Friday night at the Casper Events Center, playing in the semifinals of the 2A state tournament, and they didn’t disappoint, beating the young but mighty Pine Bluffs Hornets 71-64 in a double-overtime thriller to advance to the 2A title game Saturday night against Wyoming Indian.
Pine Bluffs has been hot, winning three games at the 2A East regional, then dispatching fourth-ranked Big Piney in the first round at State Thursday night.
“They’re for sure a solid team. They’ve won a lot of games,” Coach Michael Simmons said, noting that he had assistant coaches scouting both Big Piney and Pine Bluffs the night before.
Even with the scouting report, Simmons and his staff had to make mid-game adjustments, he said.
Pine Bluffs got off to a hot start, leading the Grizz 10-2 on the strength of a pair of three-pointers by sharp-shooting guard Trent Werner, but Bill Despain drained a pair of treys and Tanner Coleman executed a baseline move and jumper to rally the Grizz, who trailed 14-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Pine Bluffs continued to maintain a four- to eight-point lead throughout the second quarter as 6-8 freshman center Hunter Thompson scored inside and out. Pine Bluffs led 26-19 at halftime.
The Hornets upped their lead to 36-23 three minutes into the third quarter behind a pair of treys by Werner, despite two jumpers by Kirby Winland for the Grizz. Simmons called time out and went to a straight man-to-man defense, picking up the Hornets at three-quarter court.
“We said let’s see who wants to play the hardest,” Simmons said. “We were missing some responsibilities in the zone (switching from man to zone in the first half). We told the kids to out-work them, create havoc and box them out. The intensity increased and the level of physicality increased. It was a matter of who wants it more.
“From then on we did very little coaching. We were cheerleaders.”
The Grizz responded, outscoring the Hornets 10-4 over the last five minutes of the third quarter to trail 40-33 at the quarter break.
A trey by Cannon Simmons closed the gap to three points early in the fourth quarter, and after Werner hit a runner for Pine Bluffs, Coleman drilled a trey from the corner and Despain followed his own miss for two. The game was tied 42-42.
A trey by Despain and a follow shot by Cole Simmons helped the Grizz to a five-point lead, which they maintained until the final minute when the Hornets rallied to knot the score 53-53 at the end of regulation. The red hot Grizz turned suddenly cold over the last 2 ½ minutes and didn’t score.
The Grizz built a four-point lead early in the first overtime on an inside move by Cannon Simmons, an inside bucket by Winland and two free throws by Coleman, but again they went cold in the last two minutes, missing three free throws as Pine Bluffs rallied to tie. Winland stuffed Hornet Harvey De La Cruz on the final play to send the game into a second overtime with the score tied at 59.
Pine Bluffs scored first on a pair of free throws, and Werner’s fifth trey of the game put the Hornets up 64-63 with two minutes to play.
Rocky dominated down the stretch, stealing the ball four times and taking the game to the Hornets. A Despain steal led to a Coleman layup, and senior Joey Jewell snatched an offensive rebound and scored, then converted another steal into a fast-break bucket as Rocky pulled away to win by seven, 71-64, outscoring Pine Bluffs 12-5 in the second overtime.
“We told them at the end of regulation that the team that wants it the most and is in better shape will win,” Simmons said. “We said we have better (stronger) legs and we’ll be fine. Then at the end of the first overtime, we said the same thing, that the longer the game goes, the better our chances get…The energy was there. The kids played great.”
Despain had a remarkable game for the Grizzlies: 21 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists and eight steals – nearly a quadruple double. Winland added 20 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, Coleman 14 points, Cannon Simmons 10 points and Jewell 6 points.
The win advanced the Grizzlies (19-9) to Saturday night’s title game.
John Higgins 0 0-0 0, Joey Jewell 3 0-2 6, Bill Despain 7 4-5 21, Caleb Horrocks 0 0-0 0, Kirby Winland 8 4-6 20, Cannon Simmons 4 1-3 10, Cole Simmons 0 0-2 0, Tanner Coleman 5 3-6 14, Jacob Price 0 0-0 0. Totals 27 12-24 71.
PINE BLUFFS (64)
Marquice Rivers 3 0-0 6, Hunter Thompson 6 2-2 14, Kyle Steger 2 2-2 7, Scott Gross 7 2-3 16, Jaiden Fornstrom 0 0-0 0, Trent Werner 7 0-0 19, Preston Thurin 1 0-0 2, Harvey De La Cruz 0 0-1 0. Totals 26 6-8 64
Rocky Mtn. 10 9 14 20 6 12 – 71
Pine Bluffs 14 12 14 13 6 5 – 64
Three-point field goals – Despain 3, Ca. Simmons 1, Coleman 1; Werner 5, Steger 1. Fouled out – Rivers, Gross. Total fouls – Rocky 18, Pine Bluffs 19.