Following last week’s lopsided loss to Green River, the Kelly Walsh boys had a troublesome week. There was illness and injury, which forced some players to miss practice on Tuesday even though the team didn’t practice on Monday.
But that somehow didn’t trickle over to Friday night, when the Trojans successfully defended their home court against rival Natrona County with a highly-contest 55-47 win. With that victory Kelly Walsh captured its second straight Peach Basket. Coupled with the girls’ win, it was the first Kelly Walsh sweep of the basketball rivalry since 1996.
For as turbulent as the week was, the Trojans still found time to prepare.
“I told them that NC’s not stupid, they’re going to watch that (Green River) film and see them getting in our shorts because that’s what worked,” KW head coach Randy Roden said. “We knew NC would come out and try to get after us and we talked about how we had to be the aggressor with the ball, we could not allow them to buffalo us.”
Kelly Walsh (7-10, 4-2 Class 4A West Conference) jumped out to an early 6-0 lead before Natrona County senior Brennan Hagar immediately cut the lead in half with a 3. Hagar went on to score a team-high 11.
But even as Natrona County (3-14, 1-5 4A West) went on a 9-2 run late in the first quarter to take its first lead, it was clear that wouldn’t last long. Kelly Walsh answered with a 9-0 run that morphed into a 17-2 run to take the lead for good. The Mustangs were able to scrap a modest 7-0 run together just before half to go into the break down 29-20.
Hopes of causing as much confusion and as many turnovers as Green River did against the Trojans had fallen by the wayside. Kelly Walsh, which committed a season-high 20 turnovers in the loss to the Wolves, had just eight on Friday night. Junior Davion McAdam, who scored just four points against the Wolves, answered with a game-high 15 points against the Mustangs.
Typically, McAdam and Ross Padilla have been the scoring catalysts this season. And while McAdam led the Trojans in scoring, they also received big contributions from Sage Coventry (nine) and Michael Bradley (11). Bradley’s long-range game helped spread out the defense when the Trojans had little threat from outside. They hit four 3’s in total Friday and Bradley accounted for three of them.
“I’m just making the open shots,” Bradley said. “I make them all the time in practice. It’s just another game, everything’s the same.”
A corner 3 from Bradley in the fourth quarter put the Trojans up 44-36 with just 3:21 remaining. Natrona County head coach Shawn Gillum needed a timeout. The Kelly Walsh student section began singing “I believe we will win.” The game appeared in hand.
Then, almost like an aberration, the Mustangs put together a 7-2 run. Senior Ben Acres scored second-chance points and Jesse Harshman netted an and-one to shrink the lead to 46-43 with under 2 minutes remaining. Roden stopped the bleeding with a timeout.
From there the Trojans made crucial defensive stands and hit free throws to ice the win.
The reality of the situation was someone had to win Friday’s game. The hope, for both teams, was that they would be the ones to do it. Natrona County could have used the rivalry win for some positive outlook. The Mustangs’ record has only been exacerbated by its current run of seven losses in eight games.
It’s a mathematical certainty that they will finish with a losing record for the third straight season and for the sixth time in seven seasons. However, they remain a pesky group. Hagar, Acres and Harshman provide scoring options while Jhett George and Brett Norvelle have shown hints of excitement. And all it takes is one victory at regionals, just like what they accomplished last year.
Kelly Walsh, on the other hand, finds itself in a three-way battle for second place in the West. Rock Springs has hiccuped through conference to this point and Green River has failed to knock off No. 1 Evanston on two occasions. The Trojans, despite their record, are right in the thick of it.
“We’re still getting better,” Roden said. “We’ve still got a long ways to go, we can get a lot better. At the end of the weekend we’ll be tied for second and I never thought we’d be in that position. But if you look at that, if we want to be that second, we’ve got to win Friday night and then we’ve got to back it up on Saturday.
“It’s not going to be easy but what we did do is that we put ourselves in a good position to be third and if we have to play NC in a loser-out situation that game will be here. We took a step in the right direction, but there’s a lot of basketball in the next two weeks.”