One of the most difficult things for a team to do in a regional tournament is to come back and play well Saturday morning following a Friday night semifinal loss. The drain both physically and emotionally is tough to recover overnight, and many a good team has faltered at that crucial stage of a tournament.
No so for the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies.
Despite a slow start that had some fans worried, the Grizz got their blood pumping and dispatched the Kemmerer Rangers 69-47 to punch their ticket to the state tournament in Casper.
Rocky had lost a hard-fought battle to the runnin’ Wyoming Indian Chiefs the night before in the semifinals, whereas Kemmerer had rested after eliminating Lovell early Friday afternoon.
“Saturday morning games are never your best games historically,” Coach Michael Simmons said. “There’s a quick turn around, and you generally don’t play that many 9:30 a.m. games.”
Indeed, favored Wind River fell to Thermopolis and top-seeded Kemmerer struggled against Greybull before winning by three in the earlier loser-out girls bracket games Saturday morning.
But Simmons and his fellow coaches got the team to bed in good time Friday night and came out rested and renewed Saturday morning.
Kemmerer came out strong and took an early 10-4 lead as senior stars Tyler Roberts and Tre Deeter lit it up. But the Grizz remained calm, and once their blood got pumping they played with the Rangers and eventually took control of the ballgame.
Rocky launched an 8-0 run midway through the first quarter to take a 12-10 lead as Kirby Winland hit a flying drive and a transition jumper, Cannon Simmons hit Joey Jewell on the fast break and Bill Despain dished the ball to John Higgins inside.
The lead then changed hands seven times and the score was tied four times the rest of the first half as Kemmerer led 18-16 after one but a late 10-4 surge put the Grizz on top at halftime, 38-29. Tanner Coleman had 7 points during the surge.
“Every game Kemmerer plays the first four to eight minutes are great, and mentally as a coaching staff and athletes we prepared for their first run,” Simmons said. “We were confident that if we could stay in there the separation would come and it did. It takes a quarter to get your legs under you (after the semifinal), and we wanted to take good shots.”
Rocky seemed to take the life out of Kemmerer by starting the third quarter with a 9-0 burst to lead 47-29 as Jewell had 4 points, Winland 3 and Simmons 2 on a pretty baseline reverse layup. Rocky went on to lead 49-34 after three and outscored Kemmerer 20-13 in the fourth to win by 22 points.
Balance won out over star power for the Grizzlies. Deeter finished with 15 points and Roberts 14 for Kemmerer, but the Grizz had five players with 8 points or more. Winland finished with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, Cannon Simmons 13 points and four assists and Coleman 11 points. Despain added 9 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for a near triple-double. Jewell had 8 points and four boards.
The win earned the Grizz (17-8) a state berth and advanced them to the third-place game Saturday afternoon against the Greybull Buffs.
ROCKY MTN. (69)
Xavier Mangus 0 0-0 0, John Higgins 3 0-0 6, Joey Jewell 4 0-0 8, Bill Despain 2 5-5 9, Caleb Horrocks 0 0-0 0, Cordell McFarlane 0 2-2 2, Kirby Winland 7 1-4 15, Cole Wambeke 0 0-0 0, Cannon Simmons 4 5-7 13, Cole Simmons 1 0-0 3, Tanner Coleman 4 2-2 11, Jacob Price 1 0-0 2. Totals 26 15-20 69.
Kyle Corbridge 0 2-2 2, Tyler Roberts 5 2-3 14, Tre Deeter 6 2-3 15, Robert Webster 2 4-4 8, Dylan McCloud 1 2-3 4, Darin Hazle 0 4-4 4. Totals 14 16-19 47.
Rocky Mtn. 16 22 11 20 – 69
Kemmerer 18 11 5 13 – 47
Three-point field goals – Co. Simmons 1, Colman 1; Roberts 2, Deeter 1. Fouled out – Roberts. Total fouls – Rocky 15, Kemmerer 23.
By David Peck