The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies are heating up. After winning two of three games the previous weekend, the Grizz won two more this weekend, stopping the Thermopolis Bobcats in a conference game Thursday night at home, 54-52, then beating the Tongue River Eagles in a non-conference contest in Dayton Friday, 64-59, upping their season record to 8-6, 2-1 in the 2A Northwest.
The Grizz have two important conference games this weekend, both on the road. They travel to Shoshoni Friday and to Riverside Saturday.
“We’re getting more consistent,” Rocky coach Michael Simmons said. “There are some things we can rely on and some surprises night in, night out, but there are things to build around. Our defense is becoming more consistent, and our rebounding is slowly improving.
“The offense is producing better shots, and with time we’ll see individual players benefit from that and become more consistent. If the baseline is up – where our standard performance level is – then the kids who step up will start from a better place.”
Thursday in Cowley, Thermop came out firing and quickly took a 9-1 lead on the strength of three-pointers by Dominic Jensen and Tyler Cornwell. Ben Estes got the Grizz going with an inside jumper and a bucket on a dish from Cole Simmons to cut the deficit to four.
“I credit Thermopolis. They came out and executed early,” Simmons said. “They made some shots and got us on our heels. Good teams will do that, and Thermopolis is a good team.”
Thermop built the lead to 13-5, but the Grizz finished the first quarter with an 11-0 run. Cole Wambeke knocked down a trey from the corner, Ryker Everett took the ball strong to the basket and converted two old-fashioned three-point plays (bucket and free throw) and Wambeke drove for two more. Rocky led 16-13 after one.
Rocky built the lead to 25-18 in the second quarter as Wambeke drained two treys, Everett one. The Grizz cooled off over the final three minutes of the first half but a slashing drive by Everett and two free throws by Estes left the home team up 29-24 at halftime. Everett finished with 11 points in the first half.
“We see those spurts (from Everett) in practice,” Simmons said. “He’s athletic and his arms go forever. We’ll continue to look for opportunities to get him on the floor, especially on defense. We love him at the top of the key in a trapping defense. His offense is coming along. For a half he was feeling it.”
A power basket by Travis Banks and a drive by Cordell McFarlane put Rocky up 33-26 early in the third, and after Thermop cut the lead to two, the red hot Wambeke hit again from the deep corner for three, then converted a steal as Rocky led 38-33. Thermop scored the final five points of the third quarter, however, to tie the score at 38 with Jensen hitting a clutch trey from the top of the key.
Drives by Banks and McFarlane put the Grizz up
by four, and after Thermop cut the lead to two, it was Cole Simmons time. The Rocky junior went on a personal 8-2 run with a three-point play on a flying fast-break drive and free throw, a trey from the corner after an Everett offensive rebound and another drive to put Rocky up 50-42 with three minutes to play.
Thermop battled back, but drives by Simmons and Wambeke left the Grizz up 54-48 with a minute to play. The Grizz suffered a pair of turnovers and a missed free throw in the final minute but played good defense to lead 54-49 until Eric Herold hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut the final margin to two.
“Thermopolis started in a 1-3-1 zone, but when Cole Wambeke hit a couple of threes that brought them out of it,” Simmons said. “Once they were in a man to man, we felt we had things where we wanted. We had a few turnovers, and if we clean that up it’s a 10-point game, not a two-point game.
“We’re putting ourselves in a lot of tight games. You hope that benefits you come March.”
Wambeke finished with 18 points to lead the Grizzlies. Everett added 10 points on four-of-five shooting and had six rebounds and three steals. Simmons added 10 points and five boards, Estes 8 points. McFarlane and Ethan Price led the Grizz with three assists each, McFarlane grabbed five caroms and Banks had a pair of blocks.
Hudson Roling 0 0-0 0, Dominic Jensen 5 1-2 13, Tyler Cornwell 6 3-4 16, Michael Meier 1 0-0 2, Noah Schwalbe 3 0-0 6, Keegan Robbins 1 3-4 5, Eric Herold 4 0-0 10. Totals 20 7-10 52.
ROCKY MTN. (54)
Ryker Everett 4 2-2 11, Tristan Jewell 0 0-0 0, Cole Simmons 4 1-1 10, Ben Estes 2 3-4 7, Cordell McFarlane 2 0-0 4, Cole Wambeke 7 0-1 18, Ethan Price 0 0-0 0, Travis Banks 2 0-0 4, Jonathan Allred 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 6-8 54.
Thermop 13 11 14 14 – 52
Rocky Mt. 16 13 9 16 – 54
Three-point field goals – Jensen 2, Herold 2, Cornwell 1; Wambeke 4, Everett 1, Simmons 1. Fouled out – none. Total fouls – Thermopolis 14, Rocky Mtn. 12.
The Grizz traveled to Dayton Friday and beat the Tongue River Eagles 64-59 as Cole Wambeke exploded for 23 points and Travis Banks added 16.
Wambeke was hot early, knocking down a pair of three-pointers and scoring 8 points in the first quarter to spur the Grizzlies to a 16-12 lead after one period. The two teams traded baskets in the second quarter as Tongue River outscored Rocky by one, 17-16, cutting the Grizzly lead to three at halftime, 32-29. The Grizz hit six of nine free-throw attempts in the quarter.
“We didn’t have any film on them so we watched the JV game to see what Tongue River does,” Simmons said. “We came out with good energy and got to the free-throw line Friday. I’ll take that (21 of 31 in the game). That will win you a lot of games.”
Rocky edged TR 12-9 in the third to lead 44-38 with one quarter to play as Wambeke scored 8 points in the quarter. The Grizz fought off a Tongue River comeback in the fourth, hitting 12 of 19 foul shots in the quarter. Banks scored 8 points in the quarter, and Price hit five of six shots at the line. Tongue River outscored Rocky 21-20 in the fourth but couldn’t make up the deficit.
“Cole Wambeke and Travis Banks both had great games Friday,” Simmons said. “They face-guarded Cole Simmons the whole game. It took us a while to deal with that. They were totally denying one individual. But if your team responds to that, it can become an advantage and you can get some wide-open layups. Cole Wambeke benefitted from that movement.
“We did a better job taking care of the ball Friday. I credit Tongue River. They did some good things. They played hard.”
Wambeke finished with 23 points, hitting seven of 11 shots from the field, and he grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists. Banks added 15 points on five-of-six shooting and snared four rebounds. Cole Simmons finished with 7 points, four rebounds and three assists, Ethan Price 7 points and Dylan Williams 6 points and seven rebounds.
ROCKY MTN. (64)
Ryker Everett 0 0-0 0, Cole Simmons 2 3-4 7, Ben Estes 2 0-0 4, Cordell McFarlane 0 0-2 0, Cole Wambeke 7 6-8 23, Ethan Price 1 5-6 7, Travis Banks 5 6-9 16, Jonathan Allred 0 1-2 1, Dylan Williams 3 0-0 6. Totals 20 21-31 64.
TONGUE RIVER (59)
J. Keo 10 0-1 22, J. Fritz 2 0-0 5, W. Kerns 2 0-2 4, B. Kutterer 4 1-5 9, D. Lyons 1 0-0 2, J. Dickerson 1 0-0 2, D. Patterson 1 0-1 2, C. Buller 4 4-6 13. Totals 25 5-15 59.
Rocky Mtn. 16 16 12 20 – 64
Tongue River 12 17 9 21 – 59
Three-point field goals – Wambeke 3; Keo 2, Fritz 1, Buller 1. Fouled out – Kutterer. Total fouls – Rocky 21, Tongue River 27.
The Grizz will take to the road for two conference games this week, starting Friday night in Shoshoni, followed by a contest Saturday at Riverside.
Rocky has already played Riverside twice, so the Grizz will focus on Shoshoni this week, which also happens to be the first game, Simmons said.
“Shoshoni is the one we’ll spend most of the time prepping for this week,” he said.
The fifth-ranked Wranglers are 13-3 this season and have some big wins, including a 54-52 win over Wyoming Indian on Jan. 22.
“Shoshoni is smaller and athletic. They pressure you and get up and down the floor,” Simmons said. “It’s a tough gym to play in. It’s a big game for sure.”
Shoshoni plays four games in a row on game day: JV girls at 2:30 p.m., JV boys at 4, varsity girls at 5:30 and varsity boys
The Grizz travel to Basin Saturday to take on the Riverside Rebels in another conference game with, again, four games played back to back: JV girls at noon, JV boys at 1:30, varsity girls at 3 and varsity boys at 4:30.
The Grizz have defeated the Rebels twice this year: 50-34 at the Big Horn Basin Classic in Lovell and 48-34 Jan. 22 in Cowley.
By David Peck