Laramie has been in this position before.
The Plainsmen, who improved to 4-0 with a 65-50 victory at Natrona County on Tuesday night, won their first seven games last season before stumbling to an 11-11 record. A 54-51 loss to the Mustangs in the Class 4A East Conference consolation semifinals ended the Plainsmen’s hopes of qualifying for the state tournament for the first time since 2016.
And while the meat of Laramie’s schedule — two games against both Cheyenne Central and Cheyenne East and single games against Gillette, Sheridan and Thunder Basin, who have a combined record of 19-0 — is still to come, the Plainsmen have been impressive through the early part of the season.
“We’ve played really good defense and we play really well together,” Laramie head coach Jim Shaffer said after Tuesday’s game. “Our shot selection is really good and because of that we’re shooting a high percentage.”
All of those aspects were on display Tuesday.
The Mustangs used a 7-0 run midway through the second quarter to take a 25-19 lead before Laramie regained control in large part because of its defensive pressure and the play of sophomores Jaedyn Brown and Mahlon Morris. The 5-foot-11 Brown hit two 3-pointers and the 6-2 Morris scored seven of his game-high 22 points as the Plainsmen closed the half on a 15-4 run to take a 34-29 lead into the locker room.
They elevated their defense in the second half, limiting the Mustangs to five third-quarter points and taking a double-digit lead into the final 8 minutes on back-to-back baskets from 6-5 junior Trey Enzi.
“We really closed out on their (3-point attempts) with high hands and talked on defense,” Morris said.
The numbers back up that statement. Natrona County, which made five 3-pointers in the first 12 minutes, managed only one over the final 20 minutes.
The Mustangs tried to make one final push early in the fourth quarter, with Ryan Swan’s triple cutting the deficit to 50-39. But another basket in the paint from Enzi followed by six consecutive transition points — two free throws from Brown and layups from juniors Diego Medina and Jackson Devine — ended any thought of a comeback.
“I thought it would be more of a nitty-gritty type of game,” Brown stated, “but we did a good job of running the floor and getting going with easy transition buckets. And I think we did a great job of playing team defense.”
Brown, who leads the Plainsmen with 18.5 points per game, finished with 14 points while Enzi added 10 in support of Morris’ season-high output. Six other Laramie players found their way into the scorebook, but the driving force behind the 4-0 start has undoubtedly been Brown and Morris.
“Those two are kind of the straw that stirs the drink, I guess,” Shaffer admitted, “but they share the basketball and they don’t care who gets credit as long as Laramie wins.”
Brown was in full agreement with his coach.
“There is a lot of focus on me and Mahlon,” he said, “but I think guys like Garrett (Dodd) and Jake (Vigen) and Trey are all able to step up and take that role as the next option. We’ve always played up with the older kids and we know this is our team and we’re ready to go.”
The Plainsmen will try to extend their winning streak Friday when they host Kelly Walsh. They know the season is still young, but starting the new year with a road win showed that they’re trending in the right direction.
“Coach told us it was going to be an aggressive game, which it was,” Morris said. “We had to come out and punch ‘em in the mouth and keep it going. We just want to keep winning.”
Laramie 65, Natrona County 50
Tuesday, at Casper
Laramie 15 19 13 18 65
Natrona County 12 17 5 16 50
Laramie: Mahlon Morris 9 2-3 22, Jaedyn Brown 3 6-7 14, Diego Medina 1 0-2 2, Trey Enzi 5 0-0 10, Jackson Devine 2 0-0 4, Camden Shipman 2 0-0 5, Jake Vigen 2 0-0 4, Liam Bryant 1 0-0 3, Garrett Dodd 0 1-2 1. Totals 25 9-13 65.
Natrona County: Isaac Spear 3 1-1 7, Tyler Hill 0 1-2 1, Jace George 1 0-0 2, Ben Hoppens 1 0-2 2, Will Lewis 4 0-0 11, Myllian Allison 1 0-0 2, Ryan Swan 5 0-0 12, Isaac Patik 1 2-2 4, Koby Kelly 3 2-2 9. Totals 19 6-9 50.
3-point goals: Laramie 6 (Brown 2, Morris 2, Shipman 1, Bryant 1) Natrona County 6 (Lewis 3, Swan 2, Kelly 1).
Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @wyovarsity