The Kelly Walsh Trojans knew Friday night's game on their home court wasn't going to be easy. They watched Natrona County last weekend and saw a fast, able team that could challenge them. The Trojans, despite initial results, knew they needed to be better than what they showed in the season-opening weekend.
Both teams went 3-0 last weekend in Riverton, setting the stage for an unusually early Pre-Peach Basket at Kelly Walsh High School.
Natrona County battled with manic and instantaneous runs to challenge the Trojans, causing the returning semifinalists problems, but the Trojans' veteran experience was enough to expand a late lead and seal a 67-54 win.
"They showed us something that we'd never seen with the pace and energy they have," Kelly Walsh senior Davion McAdam said. "We had adjustment periods throughout the game that really hurt us and that's just something we're going to have to capitalize on."
Kelly Walsh led by as much as 12 halfway through the first quarter as the shots failed to fall for Natrona County. That early comfortable lead vanished by the midway point of the second quarter.
Transition baskets and open jumpers started to fall as the Mustangs gained momentum. They continually silenced the home crowd. Then a 4-point play by Cooper Quig cut the lead to just 24-23 and sent the traveling students into frenzy.
Kelly Walsh senior Sage Coventry answered with a 3 on the ensuing possession and the rivals traded baskets. A defensive stop just before the half culminated in a rebound by Davion McAdam, who was happy to hold onto the ball and run into the locker room with a 31-28 lead. McAdam finished with a game-high 24 points.
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Despite how close the game became, the Trojans never trailed.
Kelly Walsh responded out of halftime by going on a 9-2 lead in the first 3 minutes of the third quarter. McAdam, Isiah Wiggins and Connor Shopp continually attacked the basket and the Mustangs struggled to adjust initially. When the Mustangs were able to finally answer, they did so with conviction.
"We've got guys that will continue to play and continue to battle," Natrona County head coach Shawn Gillum said. "We really love each other and that's a good thing when you've got guys who believe in each other and battle."
A 9-0 Natrona County run closed the gap and once again brought the Mustang crowd to life midway through the third quarter. The Trojans built a small cushion only for the Mustangs to claw at the narrowing gap between them. Kelly Walsh led by 5 going into the final quarter.
"I thought we showed a lot of heart for an experienced group," McAdam said. "We wouldn't have been able to pull this off last year. I'm just really proud of this team."
The Trojans relied on their experience the rest of the way. They held the Mustangs scoreless in the first 3 minutes of the quarter and kept any answering run at bay. Eventually the Mustangs couldn't find the hoop and the Trojans' lead expanded. An and-1 by Shopp in the final minute made it a 13-point game and Trojans glided to the finish.