Possibly the biggest game in Class 2A last year wasn’t the state championship, but one of the preceding semifinals. Returning state champion Pine Bluffs against two-time state finalist Wind River. That game lived up to the hype as a late comeback and overtime run led the Cougars to a second state championship in three years.
When the two entered the field on opposite sides of the bracket for the 2018 Wyoming State High School Class 2A Boys Basketball Championships, a rematch for the title became a possibility. After both teams took care of business Friday night at the Casper Events Center, it became a reality.
Wind River sneaked past a Rocky Mountain upset bid in the early semifinal while Pine Bluffs held off upstart Upton to set the stage for a premier championship.
Dalton Finley, a role player on last year’s state championship team, went to the free-throw line with 1:02 remaining in a two-point game. Neither his coaches, his teammates nor he ever had a doubt. He sank both. Thirty seconds later he returned to the line and hit another. That extended the Wind River lead to five points and put the game on ice.
Finley finished with seven points, three of which came from the line in the final 62 seconds to help the Cougars hold off battle-tested Rocky Mountain in a 78-72 win.
“It’s the trust, the confidence in each other, the experience that they’ve had,” Wind River head coach Justin Walker said. “They’ve been in those situations before and they’ve been in there with those guys. So they trust each other and are confident with their skills and abilities, then they just finish it out.”
Wind River led by as much as 14 points in the third quarter as the Cougars continued to pressure in a half-court trap. It wasn’t until the early fourth quarter that the Grizzlies started to solve the pressure and attacked it with success.
Jayin and Jarrick Trumbull, also key returning pieces from last year’s championship squad, paced the Cougars offense. Jarrick led all scorers with 32 points while Jayin added 22 with 10 rebounds.
The victory advanced Wind River to its fourth straight state title game. Jayin Trumbull played in all previous three.
“You can take the worst team in the state and when they come to play us it’s their state championship game,” Walker said. “They could go 1-21 but they could say, ‘We beat Wind River.’ So we take it game by game to make sure we’re consistent throughout the year.”
Pine Bluffs jumped ahead of Upton in the second quarter and nearly went into halftime with all the momentum before a short Bobcats run cut the deficit to six before the break. The Hornets’ offense continued to hit its stride in the third quarter to build the lead even more.
Upton countered in the fourth quarter, eventually getting to within five points of the East Conference champions before walking away with a 60-49 victory.
Senior standout Haize Fornstrom led the Hornets’ offense with a tournament-high 33 points, shooting 15 of 29 from the floor. He also had 11 rebounds and five steals.
For the third straight season Wind River and Pine Bluffs meet in the postseason. The Hornets won the first meeting in the 2016 championship. The Cougars countered in the 2017 semifinals. Saturday’s final chapter in the original trilogy has a lot to live up to.