Panthers battle 1A's best at state tournament
The Pinnacle High boys basketball team took plenty of steps forward this season. Finishing second in Region 19. Defeating rival Green River two times. Advancing to the 1A state playoffs in their second year as a competitor in class 1A.
Panther players and coaches were happy with the progress made by the team even though expectations by those outside of the program were never very high.
But while Pinnacle was pleased to play at the state tournament, competing and winning against the best in class 1A will be the next goal on the list for the Panthers to cross off at some point.
Pinnacle faced off against Bryce Valley in the first round on Wednesday morning and the Panthers were quickly given a rude awakening as to what it's like to play on the big stage. Bryce Valley opened the game with a 10-0 run. After looking a little tentative to start the game, the Panthers started connecting on shots as Taje Richardson scored the first basket to end the early run. The Panthers began a run of their own to cut the deficit to single digits thanks to 3-pointers from Chris Smith, Jackson Nichols and Jake Hardy. Bryce Valley led 43-34 at halftime and wasted no time in taking control of the game in the third quarter as they outscored the Panthers 24-11 to take a 22 point lead into the fourth quarter.
The Panthers did not go down quietly in the final quarter as they made one final run cutting the lead down to eight points midway through the quarter. But Bryce Valley would not let them get any closer as they added to their lead and handed the Panthers an 87-69 loss in the first round game.
Richardson led the Panthers with a team-high 27 points. Hardy added 12 points and Smith finished with 10 points.
Pinnacle drew no luck as they were matched up in the consolation bracket with Layton Christian Academy, who lost in the first round to Valley, on Thursday afternoon. Layton Christian was ranked in the top three for much of the year in class 1A and they quickly proved why they are so highly ranked. LCA opened the game on a 25-0 run over the first six minutes putting the Panthers in a deep hole. LCA finished the quarter with a 27-5 lead.
PHS head coach Andrew Olson used his third timeout of the game with 4:35 left in the second quarter as LCA extended their lead over the quarter before heading into halftime with a 50-18 lead.
The Panthers continued to struggle in the second half on offense as they tried to combat against the size and strength of LCA. LCA outscored the Panthers 33-9 in the second half to hand Pinnacle an early exit from their first state tournament apperance with an 83-27 defeat.
Hardy led the team with nine points. Jackson Nichols had five points and Cody Dean Sanchez and Richardson each added four points.
Olson said he was proud of his team's hard work to make it down to Richfield for the first time in school history and didn't want the two losses to overshadow the team's effort over the season.
"It's the first time we've ever been down here as a team," Olson said. "We had a great season overall and these games shouldn't negate what we've been able to accomplish this year."
To show the level of competition the Panthers played against, Bryce Valley advanced on after defeating the Panthers and eventually won the 1A State Championship on Saturday afternoon against Duchesne. And LCA went on to take the consolation title by beating Legacy Prep.
Olson said the slow starts in both games took the Panthers out of their rythum on both sides of the ball.
"I think we just didn't really know what to expect when we got out there on the floor," Olson explained. "We started to shoot the ball better against Bryce Valley as the game went along and I'm happy with how the guys battled the whole game. We just got ourselves in a big hole early and couldn't recover from it."
Finishing their season against LCA was a tough way to go out, Olson said. But while the Panthers were down by double digits the entire game, he was pleased that the team never backed down or waived the white flag in surrender.
"I told them late in the game to forget the score and just play for the name on their chest," he explained.
Olson also cited the tremendous support the team received as Pinnacle bused down elementary students as well as the Scream Team to support the players during the two day trip to Richfield.
With four seniors playing in their final game, including Richardson, Hardy, Rudman and Smith, Olson said they helped lay the foundation for Pinnacle to build upon for years to come.
"Each of them helped lead the way over the season and I'm extremely proud of what they accomplished for the program in helping us get to the state tournament," Olson said.
With the four seniors departing, Olson said next season's team will be young and will have to work on getting stronger and faster over the offseason.
The Panthers finished the season with an overall record of 15-8 and a 7-3 mark in Region 19 play.