The season-long battle for No. 1 comes to a fitting conclusion. Two dominant semifinals in the 2019 Wyoming State High School Class 4A Girls Basketball Championships at the Casper Events Center set the stage for Cheyenne East-Thunder Basin: Volume Two.
East advanced by avenging its regional loss to Gillette, holding on for a tight 62-58 win to start Friday’s action while Thunder Basin jumped in front early and cruised past Star Valley, 66-42.
The two sides traded the lead early through a high-paced first quarter as the Thunderbirds comfortably played transition at Gillette’s preferred speed. It wasn’t until Ky Buell’s step-back 3 with 71 seconds left in the opening half that either team called timeout. That shot gave East a three-point lead and Camels head coach Mitch Holst wanted to adjust defense on the high-scoring junior from that point.
Buell finished with 22, 14 of which came in the first half. She was the leading scorer out of nine different T-Birds on Friday, playing a key cog in East’s well-oiled machine, along with teammate Madison Blaney.
“Those two kids did a phenomenal job,” East head coach Eric Westling said. “And we had some kids come off the bench that may not have seen a ton of time all year came in and did some great things. They did great things for us when we needed them the most.”
East maintained a lead ranging from four-to-seven points the rest of the way. Rylee Hladky, who was named Wyoming’s Gatorade Player of the Year hours earlier, rallied the Camels with 15 points in the first half before teammate McKenzee Nuzum’s emergence. Hladky finished with 25.
Nuzum’s on-ball defendse sparked a modest rally from the Camels that cut East’s lead to just two points less than a minute into the fourth quarter. The Camels’ defensive pressure continued to produce turnovers but the defending champions continually couldn’t take advantage.
“It’s a wild ride when you try and go through a Campbell County press,” Westling said. “So you have to have each others’ backs, you have to be with each other at all times and that’s just what our kids did.”
When the Camels couldn’t force turnovers they sent East to the line, where the T-Birds finished 7-of-15. Gillette had an opportunity to tie, down 3 with 10 seconds remaining, but East poked the inbounds pass away and Blaney corralled it. Blaney then hit one free throw and the rest was history.
Thunder Basin’s semifinal game involved less drama, partly because of the Bolts’ overwhelming start. Star Valley didn’t attempt a shot until an Abby Coles runner put the Braves on the board 3 minutes in. Two minutes later the Braves were 2-of-3 from the field while the Bolts were 5-of-11 with a 10-point lead. A 3 from Rigan McInerney and consistent transition layups from Jersie Taylor expanded the lead.
The gap furthered as the Bolts’ up-tempo offense left Star Valley at least two steps behind.
Thunder Basin’s potent offense went 24 of 58, sparked by forcing 22 turnovers. Taylor led the charge with 11 points while McInerney and Madison Miller each had 10.
“That’s been our MO all year and you never really know who’s going to step up and it could be anyone,” Bolts head coach Braidi Lutgen said. “We just look for that and tell everyone that you’ve got to bring your role.”
Thunder Basin lost to East 62-40 in their only previous meeting this season.