When the Class 3A State Boys Basketball tournament began, there were many different predictions on which team would rise above the rest and claim the coveted post-season crown.
Many felt like Morgan would run the table and post a perfect season. Some predicted that the two-time defending Wasatch Wasps would upend Morgan in the semis and seize the title for a threepeat. And for those who love long shots, even a couple picked third-ranked Snow Canyon to upend either of the two in the finals and garner an elusive boys hoop championship.
As for Tooele — well, many said they were just lucky to be in the tournament and would be lucky to win even one game in the prestigious three-day event at the E-Center in West Valley Center. In fact, the Buffs were picked the last on the list as far as odds to garner the cherished gold trophy.
Well, Tooele had them all B-U-F-F-A-L-O-E-D. They had them right where they wanted them, and just like pins they mowed them all down until it was the unlikeliest of teams that remained standing, hoisting the elusive boys basketball title that 91 Buff teams had failed to deliver.
And they did it as a TEAM.
Cody Castle buried a dramatic 3-point missile from the corner with 12.5 seconds left to lift Tooele. Then the Buffs survived a flurry of three desperate Wasps’ shots in the final ticks to preserve a 38-36 triumph over two-time defending state champion Wasatch in Saturday’s state finals at the E Center in West Valley City.
Mike Holt poured in a team high 15 and Nash Lockie chalked up six points. Josh Boucher and Taylor Palmer contributed five points each. Darin Mahoney logged a game high 18 points and Logan Magnusson hit for nine. Jake Woodruff flipped in six for the Wasps.
Although Tooele didn’t have the high point tallies or a duo of towering, formidable forwards like the Wasps, the Buffs had everyone produce points or key defensive performances to lift the team to the title triumph.
The Buffs have seven of their nine players that saw action in the game score points. And as it turned out, Tooele needed every single point to hold off the two-time champs.
Meanwhile, Wasatch had only four of its eight players produce points in the game.
Each Buff player proved to be vital for the team’s success. Holt and Lockie not only led the team in scoring Saturday, the dynamic duo dictated the tempo offensively that slowed down the jackrabbit up-tempo and talented teams of Snow Canyon and Wasatch and frustrated both to give Tooele the edge in court poise when it needed it most — down the stretch.
The interior toughness of forwards Colton Hogan, Palmer, Bryton Lawrence and Alex DeSpain were needed to guard and keep the long armed Wasp tandem of Magnusson and Mahoney off the offensive boards and also shut down Division One recruit Coby Leavitt of Snow Canyon the night before.
Then there were guards Josh Cedar, Dorian Cochran and Josh Johnson and forward Zach Connelly who saw limited action throughout the tournament to provide depth and gave the starters a short breather.
But most of all, the team needed the poise and leadership of a pair of senior leaders in Castle and Boucher who hit big shot after big shot during the title run and were willing to share time with younger underclassmen for the good of the team.
All in all it spelled out a title run.
“It’s like your favorite dream and the kind you would like to have over and over again,” stated Coach Gary Alverson. “It’s finally sinking in that it’s not a dream. I told the kids that this is one of the most satisfying weeks of all of our lives.. It was magical.”
Indeed, it was a storybook ending for a team no one considered a threat to win it all. But the run began just a few weeks earlier, ironically when Castle fired in another shot that will go down in Buff lore as one of the biggest to set the stage for a memorable two-and- one-half week ride for the team and Buff fans alike.
Just like Saturday, Castle scored his lone points of the game in the game that launched Tooele on a six-game win streak and joyous and scintillating run. On Feb. 9, Tooele began its six-game win streak when Castle fired in a 3-point basket with 5.5 seconds left to lift the Buffs to a dramatic 39- 38 victory over rival Ben Lomond at home. The team trailed the Scots by six points, 38-32, with 56 seconds remaining to capture the hard fought triumph.
Just two days later it was deja vu all over again. Bear River led 50-44 with just 60 seconds left on the clock and Tooele waved its wand once again and found a way to never, never land. Mike Holt buried two dramatic 3-point shots, including the game tying shot with six seconds left to knot the affair and force the game into overtime. Nash Lockie took over in the extra session and the Buffs pulled off their first-ever road victory over Bear River, 60-57.
Just an hour later, Tooele pulled off another pivotal mark, winning the coin toss and a home playoff game, the first in quite a few years. Then, the Buffs reeled off consecutive post-season triumphs over Granite (55-50), Dixie (33-29), Snow Canyon (49-40) and finally Wasatch (38-36) to take home the school’s first-ever state boys hoop crown.
Coincidentally, the run began with Castle and ended with Castle. But in between there were many key contributions from everyone on the team, including a team oriented bench that included Connelly, Cedar, K.C. Huffman, Tyler Cheatham, Mike Trussell, Johnson and Cochran.
“This was a very special group of kids,” noted Coach Alverson. “I love them all. Of all of the teams I’ve coached, and I’ve coached a lot of them over the years, this team was the most unselfish, coachable and had the mentality of ‘we’re in it for the team and not for ourselves.’ And it showed.
It was unusual and that had a lot to do with what we accomplished. They were a total team in every sense of the word and that is why we’re bringing home the trophy.”
A story on the games will be published in a future edition.