Upton head coach Joe Samuelson said his team came into this season with high expectations. He wasn’t surprised when the Bobcats jumped out to a 24-8 lead in the first quarter on Thursday night at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym. That’s what his current group has done all year.
Still, after the last popcorn kernel was swept aside, what the Bobcats accomplished remained stunning.
Upton weathered Wyoming Indian’s full-court press and eliminated the returning state runners-up in a 67-55 quarterfinal win of the 2018 Wyoming State High School Class 2A Boys Basketball Championship. It was the first 2A state tournament win for the program since 1998.
“We had some guys injured in the middle of the season that killed our momentum,” Samuelson said. “We’re starting to get it back at the tail end of the season. It was good to get that one, it feels really good.”
The Chiefs got to within nine in the fourth quarter. After that, Upton solved the press and grabbed the momentum with defensive stops.
Junior Clayton Louderback finished 11-of-16 from the floor for 28 points and added 13 rebounds while senior teammate Payton Watt added 22 points for the Bobcats. Upton outrebounded Wyoming Indian 43-30.
Joining Upton in breaking through to the semifinals was Rocky Mountain, which did not have history on its side despite a favorable matchup.
On paper, the Grizzlies’ 66-44 win Thursday was expected. Southeast opened the season 1-7 and entered the tournament 12-12 while Rocky not only stood 21-3 going into the weekend, but had already defeated Southeast 62-49 this season.
In reality, however, the Grizzlies got over the hump. A 16-3 run by Rocky Mountain opened the game and that lead remained throughout the game’s duration. Southeast got to within three in the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies pulled away from there.
Last year’s team had promise entering the state tournament, but a quarterfinal loss to Pine Bluffs ended the Grizzlies’ high hopes.
That’s why this quarterfinal, regardless of opponent, meant more than stat lines to the Grizzlies.
“We know what we did wrong last year,” senior Ethan Price said. “We just wanted to come out and show people that we’ve learned from that.”
Rocky Mountain senior Colby Davison had a game-high 18 points while the returning all-stater Price added 15. Southeast’s Sterling Werner, who helped the Cyclones close the gap, had 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Then there were the familiar faces of last year’s tournament semifinals who qualified.
Wind River got a dose of its own chaos by trailing 49-44 going into the fourth quarter against Wright. The Cougars eventually rallied and brought their mantra to life with a wild 69-62 win. They trailed by as much as 10 before regaining the confidence of a returning state champion.
“It was, ‘I hope we don’t lose’ instead of, ‘Let’s win the game’” Walker said. “They went back to that in third quarter and then they went after it.”
Returning all-stater Jayin Trumbull led the Cougars with a game-high 21 points and 15 rebounds.
Wind River’s semifinal opponent from last year also advanced and they mean business.
Pine Bluffs punched its ticket in the finale with an emphatic 66-45 win. The Hornets, the 2016 champs, sprinted out to a 29-9 lead over Big Piney early in the second quarter and cruised from there.
Senior Haize Fornstrom scored 14 of his 26 points in the first half to contribute to Pine Bluffs’ fast start.