With the last Thursday quarterfinal completed in the Wyoming State High School Class 2A Boys Basketball Championships, the field for Friday night’s late semifinals at the Casper Events Center consisted of two games with similar stories. Both featured a constant figure among finalists squaring off against a team that finally overcame the obstacle in front of them.
Two of Class 2A’s current iconic programs — Wind River and Pine Bluffs — advanced from opposite sides of the bracket. Meanwhile two underdogs — Rocky Mountain and Upton — won their quarterfinal match-ups.
A small two-degrees of separation binds all four of those teams together from last season.
Pine Bluffs overcame a slow start to beat Rocky Mountain in the quarterfinals in the 2017 state tournament. Almost the exact same occurrence happened in the previous game, as Wind River pulled away in the second half to beat Upton. The next evening Wind River forced overtime with Pine Bluffs before pulling off the upset.
Friday night’s semifinals would give the underdogs a shot to capture lightning in a bottle once more.
“We know what we did wrong last year and we wanted to come out and show people what we’ve learned from that,” Rocky Mountain senior Ethan Price said. “We played all summer on the traveling team — four of us starters — and we just worked hard, paid a lot of money to show them what we know.”
Rocky Mountain, two decades removed from its last boys basketball championship, earned Wind River in the semifinals after Thursday’s action. The defending champions looked far from it during that Thursday quarterfinal after struggling with upset-minded Wright through three quarters.
Wind River head coach Justin Walker got enough out of his players to survive to play another day.
“We’ve got to make sure their mindset is right going into that game,” Walker said, “and our warm-up is appropriate so that they’re ready, mentally and physically, to go in and play that game.”
Pine Bluffs, with the expectation to return to the semifinal, did just that after jumping out to a 17-2 lead against Big Piney on Thursday. The Hornets cruised the rest of the way to earn a fifth consecutive trip to the semifinals.
Following an impressive victory over reigning runner-up Wyoming Indian, the Upton boys earned a shot to be just the second team all season to defeat Pine Bluffs. The Bobcats came into this season with high expectations, especially after the experience of competing with Wind River in the first half of last year’s quarterfinal. Upton head coach Joe Samuelson knew his team could win it all back in Class 1A, but they had loftier goals than that this year.
“We know we could compete down there (1A) but we want to compete up here at a higher level,” Samuelson said. “It’s really good for our boys. We’ve got a group of seniors that have been to state all four years and I’m happy they were able to get here. We’ve got the semis and then see if we can keep it going.”
Southeast and Wyoming Indian advanced in Friday’s early consolation game. The Cyclones will play Wyoming Indian in Saturday’s consolation championship after the Chiefs rallied from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime against Big Piney. Wyoming Indian then outscored the Punchers 22-7 in overtime.