By David Peck
The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies finished their strong season with a trophy, placing third at the state tournament in Casper with a 61-54 win over the Big Horn Rams at Casper Natrona High School Saturday afternoon.
Having played hard-fought, emotional semifinal games the night before, both teams were emotionally drained to start the contest, coach Pat Winland said, noting that he told the players they were “playing for pride and hardware.”
The Grizz shook off the emotional doldrums and jumped out to an early 9-0 lead on a three-pointer, jumper and free throw by Jess Wambeke and a trey from the corner by Taylor Winland. After a pair of buckets by Kade VanDyken for Big Horn, a trey by Zach Simmons and a bucket by Tyler Banks on a pass from Winland put Rocky up 14-4 after the first quarter.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the second quarter, and Big Horn made a run to close with three at 21-18. A step-back three-pointer by Ethan Price for Rocky was answered by a trey by VanDyken, but a steal and bucket by Tyler Banks helped the Grizz lead 28-21 at halftime.
Price, who had a monster game in his final contest as a senior, held off a strong Big Horn push with all 7 points for the Grizz during a 13-7 run that cut Rocky’s lead to one point, 35-34, midway through the third. Then Winland scored five consecutive baskets over the last half of the quarter. His personal 10-0 run left Rocky up 45-34 after three.
Big Horn continued to battle and closed the gap to five points, 50-45, midway through fourth following a 7-0 run. The Grizz crashed the offensive boards and got the ball to Price for a trey that put Rocky up 53-45, and a pair of drives by Jess Wambeke and a bucket by Banks helped the Grizzlies close out a 61-54 win, their 20th win of the season.
“Taylor put the team on his back the second half of the third quarter, and as Ethan does, he hit some big threes to finish his senior year,” Coach Winland said. “Jess had some layups to seal the game for us. I thought Dawson (May), Trace (Moss), Branson (Robison) and Zane (Horrocks) came in and gave us a spark, which was important because of our dead legs from the night before.
“It was a great win for Ethan and for the fans who came down there to support us. That was awesome. It makes the bus ride home that much sweeter when you have the hardware.”
Price finished with 21 points, hitting six for 12 shots from beyond the arc. Winland added 13 points and seven rebounds, Wambeke 12 points on five-of-six shooting and Banks 10 points while hitting four of five shots from the field. The Grizz shot 50 percent from the field. Price led the team with four steals, and Winland had four assists.
It was the final game for seniors Price and Talon Grant.
It was also the final game for assistant coach Jerry Bellmyer, who is taking a special education position in Powell, Winland said.
“I’d like to thank Jerry for his contributions to the team the last two years,” Winland said. “We used some of his offensive sets and defensive schemes to get us much needed points and stops at crucial times.”
The Grizz finished the season 20-7.
BIG HORN (54)
Carson Bates 3 0-0 8, Cutler Bradshaw 2 0-0 5, Will Pelissier 0 0-0 0, Ayden Phillips 3 2-3 10, Kade Eisele 3 1-2 7, Kade VanDyken 6 6-8 20, Quinn McCafferty 1 0-0 2, Jaxon Parker 1 0-0 2, Ryan Johnson 0 0-0 0, Seth Mullinax 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 9-13 54.
ROCKY MTN. (61)
Ethan Price 6 3-5 21, Dominic Estes 0 0-0 0, Jess Wambeke 5 1-3 12, Dawson May 0 0-0 0, Taylor Winland 6 0-0 13, Tyler Banks 4 2-3 10, Trace Moss 0 0-0 0, Zach Simmons 2 0-0 5, Zane Horrocks 0 0-0 0, Branson Robison 0 0-0 0.Totals 23 6-11 6-11 61.
Big Horn 4 17 13 20 – 54
Rocky Mt. 14 14 17 16 – 61
Three-point field goals – Bates 2, Phillips 2, VanDyken 2, Bradshaw 1; Price 6, Wambeke 1, Winland 1, Simmons 1. Fouled out – Eisele; Simmons. Total fouls – Big Horn 16, Rocky 13.