Powell isn’t supposed to still be playing. Only problem is, no one told that to the Panthers.
Powell (12-12) continued its late-season surge with a surprising 66-64 victory over defending state champion Buffalo on Friday at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym. The Panthers now find themselves in the final game of the Wyoming State High School Class 3A Boys Basketball Championships for the first time since 2013 and playing for their first state title since 1998.
“We’re living a dream right now,” Powell senior Kaelen Groves said. “And in a dream, anything can happen.”
Powell fell behind early, but never let the Bison get too far out of reach. The game was tied 31-all at the half and neither team led by more than three points until two late free throws gave Powell a 66-61 lead. Buffalo’s Hunter Peterson hit a halfcourt 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final score.
Buffalo got a basket from Aaron Thiele and a free throw from Mason Moon to lead 57-54 with 3 minutes, 4 seconds remaining. But Groves answered with a 3 to tie the game at 57-all. Two free throws from Thiele gave the Bison a 60-59 advantage, but Jesse Brown was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three charity tosses with 1:15 to play to give the Panthers the lead for good.
“We just keep believing in ourselves,” Powell head coach Chase Kistler said. “Even before the game you could see it in their eyes ... it just keeps building.”
All that emotion erupted when Thiele’s 3-pointer with less than 5 seconds left bounced off the rim and the Panthers secured the rebound.
After the game, all of the Panthers gathered in the lobby and posed for photos, enjoying the moment with family and friends.
“We really love each other,” Groves said. “We play for each other and it shows. But we’re not done yet, we’ve got one more.”
Powell will face the winner of Friday’s late semifinal between Lander and Wheatland. The Panthers didn’t face Wheatland this season, but were 0-3 against the Tigers. So it’s not surprising which team Powell would prefer to play in Saturday’s championship game at the Casper Events Center.
“We beat Pinedale at regionals and we beat Big Piney earlier,” Groves said. “And tonight we beat Buffalo. But we still have to beat Lander.”
Powell’s turnaround in the last two weeks might be a surprise to most of the state, but not to the Panthers. Despite losing their two leading rebounders before the West Regional championship game last week, Powell is still standing.
“We finally started firing at regionals,” Kistler said.
But it was up to Groves to put it in perspective.
“When two guys go down, four more guys step up,” he said. “That’s just the way things are going for us right now.”
Sophomore Mason Marchant had 20 points to lead Powell while William Preator added 15. Thiele had a game-high 28 for Buffalo, with Tyce Dahlberg pitching in 12.