RIVERTON — Unlike the Lady Red Devils, whose East vs. West Tournament competition could be termed as very tough, with fifth-ranked Laramie, the toughest; top-ranked Sheridan, also quite tough; and Thermopolis, 2A’s third-ranked team, the Red Devils will face competition that, on paper, should get progressively easier. The Red Devils play the same three schools, with Laramie — at 6-1 and ranked No. 2, seen as the team to beat for fourth-ranked Evanston and the rest of the field — the odds-on favorite.
Sheridan, with a very good senior-laden team from last year, has somewhat paid the price with the inexperience of this year’s brood of Broncs, though they are 4-3, and have received one fifth place vote, in the most recent WyoPreps.com Coaches and Media poll, from Dec. 19, to rank in a tie for seventh with Cheyenne East.
Evanston also plays Thermopolis, which, while vastly improved from last season with a 5-3 record, really only had one way to go, as a young team from last year, and that was up. The Bobcats came into the East-West with a 1-9 record, and were pummeled by the bigger schools. Evanston played 16 players, with 12 scoring, and were up by quarters, 17-10, 41-10 and 61-18, en route to an 82-21 rout.
But before we delve any deeper into the Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 3-5, tournament pairings, let’s take a look back to last weekend, and one of the biggest surprises in all of Wyoming high school basketball on the early season, though not a pleasant surprise for the Red Devils.
The Red Devils at Star Valley showdown, as reported last Monday, lived up to the billing, another one-point victory for Evanston like last season in Afton, with an overtime period thrown in for good measure. The team boarded a bus and dined on pizza en route to Jackson, as coach Roy Barker wanted “to get there and get as much sleep as possible.”
Evanston had no problems with the Broncs in either meeting last season. But changes have been brewing in the Tetons. Activities director Sean Shockley bowed out from coaching the girls program for a number of years to take the reins of the Broncs. The Broncs have been more competitive than last year. While sporting a 4-5 overall record, including an 0-2 mark in the 3A West, the Broncs were closer in their losses than what they were at this time last season, and bring back experience, team chemistry and height. They had more than just one weapon, in Joe Caesar, in their favor, as well.
Evanston did not appear tired to most in attendance, and Barker, like the coach before him, will not allow his athletes to look past any team. Down the stretch, while in great physical shape and matching Jackson’s physical effort, the collective team tank did seem to be nearly depleted, emotionally.
That is not to say Evanston played without emotion or demonstrated a lack of emotion with regard to the game and how determined the Broncs were to spring the upset, but rather, there was just nothing left to give emotionally to give Evanston the physical spurts they needed at times, near the end. And the Broncs did play one of their best games of the year, with some unlikely individual heroics. Jackson did spring the upset, 57-55. And there was some controversy, and Evanston score keepers and coaches, along with a certain radio announcer’s tally, showed Taylor Simers with five points at the half, following two Matt Johnson free throws shot by his lonesome, as the foul was called after the halftime buzzer had sounded, the officials’ scoring table only had Siemers with three points, taking away his other second quarter field goal. Johnson’s converted free throw gave the Red Devils a 33-30 lead at the half, when it should have been 35-30. As it turns out, those two points did end up looming large. While many would argue Evanston never should have put themselves into a position where a deuce mattered that much against the Broncs, the adage of “there’s a reason we play the games” springs forth.
The game featured 11 lead changes and eight ties, with Evanston leading by a single point, 16-15, with quarter number one complete. It was 33-30 at the half, even though the Red Devils scored 19 second quarter points, but were only credited with 17. The game officials and score-keeping table officials could have awarded Evanston the extra basket, but were either not convinced of its validity or simply decided staying with their first ruling over the discrepancy was the right thing to do, and once play began in the second half, it became a moot point.
Evanston may have extended the lead to double digits in quarter number three, but once they appeared to be pulling away, the Broncs, with a boisterous crowd behind them, would storm back, and then they, as a team, began to believe.
Going into the fourth quarter, the Red Devils led 47-41, but the Broncs doubled up Evanston’s production in the final frame, 16 to 8, to pick up one of the biggest wins in Jackson basketball history in recent years — and maybe decades — being unranked in 3A and knocking off the 4A’s No. 4-ranked team, and one of the most successful basketball programs in the largest classification for the past 10 to 15 years.
Matt Johnson attempted to put the team on his back in an inspiring performance in the loss, scoring a career-high 29 points, including 11 in the second, and 10 points in the third, along with 6 of Evanston’s 8 fourth quarter points, and flung a half-court heave for the win, which bounced high off the back iron. Johnson had just two points in the first.
Jemini Leckie was the only other Red Devil reaching double-figures with 15, carrying his team in the first quarter by draining three treys. Sophomore Alek Johnson hit a two and a three to end with 5, with senior Austin Bowen scoring his first points of the year, as he and Siemers finished with 3 points each.
Evanston’s line was 17 field goals, four treys and 9-12 shooting from the stripe, with 11 turnovers, unofficially. The Broncs had 13 turnovers with a line of 13 deuces, six three-point baskets, and were 13 for 15 from the charity stripe.
The Broncs will return to Evanston on the afternoon of Jan. 12, after another date with the Star Valley teams on the night of Jan. 11, the home opener for the Lady Red Devils and Red Devils.
Versus Laramie in the
East vs. West tourney
It has been a number of years since Laramie defeated Evanston, but the Plainsmen have proven it is no fluke, and their 6-1 record — without a loss to a Wyoming opponent — is a big part of proving Plainsmen basketball is for real. The two teams squared off on day three of the McDonald’s Classic at the Cheyenne East Thunderbirds gym on Dec. 1, each having won their first two games of the year, with Evanston jumping out to 13-6 first quarter advantage, behind 8 points from Matt Johnson.
The Plainsmen focused on denying Johnson the basketball or doubling down on him if he did get the ball, and the adjustment paid dividends, as Johnson scored one point from the line in the second quarter, with post Sam and perimeter Sam combining for 15 of Laramie’s 20 points in the second, while limiting the Red Devils to 10, and taking a 26-23 halftime lead they would not relinquish.
The two Sams, six-foot, six-inch Sam Hainline, and six-foot, one-inch Sam Feldman, along with Tyler Loose, and occasionally Dominick Villareal, form at least a three-pronged attack, and compliment the strengths of one another very well.
Hainline led all scorers with 16, with Feldman and Villareal notching 11 apiece, with all of Villareal’s production coming in the second half. Loose contibuted seven. Laramie's line was 18 field goals, one three-point bucket and a 9-for-14 performance from the free-throw line, while committing 10 turnovers. The Plainsmen forced 14 turnovers on the Red Devils, whose line was a stark contrast with just six field goals, but seven treys and converting 6 of 11 free throw attempts. Johnson and Leckie shared game-high honors, each with 11, and Siemers scored 10, with three apiece for Nathan Chandler and Colton Welling, and one for Bradi Purcell.
The Plainsmen do not rely on the long ball too much, and shoot just 25 percent. But they convert 54 percent from the field and 62 percent from the line. By comparison, with six games’ worth of stats included of the eight games played for the 5-3 Red Devils, Evanston connects on 35 percent from long range, 49 percent from the field and 59 percent of their free throws. Hainline leads Laramie's charge with 14.9 points per game, followed by Feldman's 13.9 and Loose's 12.1. Villareal and Abel Casas score 7.6 and 7.4 for Laramie. Hainline collects 7.7 rebounds, with Loose's 6.4 assists good for second in the conference and state. His 2.9 steals are the most per game for Laramie.
The only significant change in Evanston’s statistical story, from what was reported last time, is Matt Johnson’s scoring average rising three points, from 15.5 to 18.5, and now in third place in the state, rather than fourth, after a combined 55 points over the past weekend against Star Valley and Jackson.
One major difference in the rematch will be Evanston having Kade Lym in the line-up. This game’s outcome, like the Lady Red Devils rematch with Laramie, will already be known once this Friday’s Herald reaches you, as it’s slated for a 7 p.m. tip-off on Thursday from the Central Wyoming College Rustler Gym.
Today, Evanston squares off against the Sheridan Broncs. Last year’s game, also played at Riverton Middle School, was unforgettable, not just because of the closeness of two of the state’s best hoops teams, who were both top-five ranked, but for the unorthodox ending, as Evanston had built a four point advantage, in the waning moments. Sheridan called time-out to set up a play, and Evanston did not take the floor, instructed by their coach to remain on the sidelines.
Sheridan got the ball in to Riley Ryan, who hit an uncontested three to pull Sheridan to within one, but the clock continued to roll its final few seconds with Sheridan players having an exasperated look on their faces, realizing there was nothing they could do. In retrospect, it appears coach O’Neill’s genius was at work, not wanting to give the Broncs any shot at a four-point play by committing a foul — and it worked.
This year’s Sheridan team does boast the 4A’s leading scorer in six-foot, three-inch junior Reed Ritterbusch, with his 22.6 points per game average. Dylan Daniels, a six-foot sophomore, is also represented in the 4A East’s top 10, pouring in 11.9 per game.
Ritterbusch leads the team in rebounding, pulling down 5.3 each time out, while Daniels sets the bar for assists and steals, with 3.1 and 2.9, respectively. Judson White, another starting sophomore standing six-foot, three-inche, averages 2.4 blocked shots, which tops the 4A East and is tied for second, statewide. Spencer Welch, a five-foot, 10-inch senior and Daniel Sessions, a six-foot, one-inch junior round out the starting five for Sheridan.
As a team, the Broncs shoot 37 percent from beyond the arc, 49 percent from the field and 59 percent from the line.
As far as Saturday’s contest with the 5-3 Thermopolis Bobcats of the 2A division, again, the only direction they could go from last season was up, and they have, but will likely be defeated soundly by all the 4A teams they face. They return virtually everyone, and have three players averaging double-figures in scoring, led by Tanner Abbott with 20.8 per game.
Kacy Conner and Skylar Thomas score 10.4 and 10 for the Bobcats. Conner pulls down 9.9 rebounds and Lane Schmidt dishes out 4.4 assists and collects 3.5 steals per game. The Bobcats average 54.5 points as a team, and yield 52 on average. They shoot 22 percent from three-point range, 37 percent from the field and 52 percent from the line. They will have faced third-ranked Riverton and sixth-ranked Kelly Walsh before meeting Evanston.
The Laramie teams battle Riverton on Friday and Kelly Walsh on Saturday, while Sheridan opens with KW and closes with Riverton.