When the dust settled on Gillette’s stampede over the Natrona County Fillies on Thursday there was one thing for certain: Friday’s semifinals would be a glorified East Regional.
All four East Conference teams advanced at Kelly Walsh High School in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Wyoming State High School Class 4A Girls Basketball Championships. The path of destruction included comebacks, routes and intense final minutes.
The Kelly Walsh Trojans clung to a third-quarter lead with their postseason lives at stake but still couldn’t match the fourth-quarter intensity of Cheyenne Central. The Indians forced 13 second-half turnovers and outscored the Trojans 17-9 in the final frame to complete the 41-34 upset. It was the first Central quarterfinal win in three years.
“It just motivates us even more and brings so much excitement,” Central senior Sammy Geyer said. “It just makes us better than we already are.”
A cruicial 3 from Kelly Walsh senior Madison Vinich gave the Trojans a 33-31 lead with 3:11 left. That was the last time the Trojans held the advantage as they only scored on a Corin Carruth free throw the rest of the game.
Geyer finished with a game-high 10 points along with eight rebounds while teammate Jada Ybarra scored six of her eight points in the fourth quarter after the Tribe seized the lead. Central’s win punched a ticket to meet top-seeded Gillette.
The Camels forced 21 first-half turnovers, outscored the Fillies 30-6 in the second quarter, and cruised to a 68-43 victory. Rylee Hladky had a tournament-high 29 points for the Camels.
Cheyenne East led Evanston by as much as 12 in the first half. That lead continued throughout most of the third quarter. Then, into the phone booth went Emmery Wagstaff.
The three-time all-state selection and standout Red Devils senior continually hit big shots, including two free throws with 14 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. She had a chance to send the game into a second overtime, taking a step back and attempting a 3 just before the buzzer, but it bounced off the front rim.
Despite illusions of Wonder Woman, her powers only stretched so far. Fatigue had taken its toll throughout the double-digit comeback against a much bigger, physical East team. Aghast, Wagstaff stared at the scoreboard showing 53-50 and paused before joining the post-game handshake. She finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals in 33 of the game’s 36 minutes.
East, however, took timely free throws from Jazzy Espinoza (12 points, nine rebounds) and Makenzee Fagenbush (16 points, nine rebounds) in overtime to hold on. The T-Birds’ punched ticket finalized a meeting with new East Conference rival Thunder Basin and, much like the T-Birds, the Bolts needed vice grips on their lead to exit with the win.
Only Madison Miller, Desha Matuska and Meadow Kuntz played varsity minutes at Gillette last season. The inexperienced Bolts successfully defended Rock Springs standout Ky Buell, holding her to just 5 of 20 from the field, to pull away for the 46-35 win.
Miller led the Bolts with a game-high 19 points while her younger teammates stepped up when needed. Any tournament jitters were erased with the 9 a.m. tip. Two hours later the young Bolts, and the young program itself, shared a first post-season victory.
“I could tell that they were a little nervous,” Lutgen said. “Sometimes if you can just get them going and focused on the possession that they’re in then they’re fine.”