Tooele may have struggled with state jitters and didn’t exactly play well in the state opening victory over Dixie Feb. 24.
But whatever Buff Coach Gary Alverson said to the team, and the slight adjustments made between games, didn’t carry over to the next night.
In fact, Tooele looked like a totally different team and led from opening tip-off to the final buzzer to beat a heavily favored and third-ranked Snow Canyon squad 49-40 Feb. 25 at the E Center in West Valley City.
Nash Lockie fired in 16 points and Cody Castle recorded eight to lead the Buffs to the stunning semifinal upset of the Warriors. Josh Boucher poured in seven while Bryton Lawrence and Taylor Palmer logged six each.
Mitch Frei paced Snow Canyon with 13 points and Division One prospect Coby Leavitt was held to a mere nine points on the night, thanks to the stellar defensive performance of Colton Hogan, Taylor Palmer, Alex DeSpain, Bryton Lawrence and Zach Connelly.
The impressive performance gave the Buffs enough confidence to carry over into the state finals and upset favored and two-time defending state champ Wasatch 38-36 to capture the coveted crown.
Tooele Coach Alverson said his team felt confident they could beat the Warriors after playing them earlier in the season and without the dangerous forward Nigel Moore playing alongside Leavitt.
“We felt like we could beat them,” Alverson stated. “The kid that really hurt us in the first game was Nigel Moore. We had a lot of confidence that when he wasn’t going to play we could hold down Leavitt. We were smart enough not to trap them this time and allow (Leavitt) to be open.
He didn’t like a body on him and physical play. Taylor Palmer really played well in that game. Alex came in and spelled him when Taylor got into foul trouble and did a great job as well.
It really helped us that we had played them before because we were able to make some minor adjustments and we knew how to play them better. We took (Leavitt) out of where he can score and it became hard for him to score and other players just started shooting. They didn’t show a lot patience or poise when it matters and we really frustrated and took them out of their game physically and emotionally. It hurt them that they couldn’t press us as well. They tried but Mike took care of the ball and ran the game plan and that frustrated them as well.”
Tooele 49 – S. Can. 40
The Buffs led from start to finish to beat a talented and favored Warriors squad with a total team effort Feb. 25 at the E Center in West Valley City.
Boucher gave Tooele a huge boost in the opening period with a basket and 3-point bomb. Holt provided a field goal and Palmer canned a free throw to stake the Buffs to an 8-4 lead after one period expired.
Lockie extended the margin to 10-4 with a pair of charity tosses just seconds into the second stanza to extend the margin.
Snow Canyon did close to within 10-9 when Jordan Mulford buried a 3-point bomb and Frei fired in a five-foot jumper. But that would be the closest the Warriors would come the rest of the way as Tooele held the thirdranked foe at bay with clutch shots and free throws.
The Buffs closed out the period with a 10-3 run, fueled by Lockie with two free throws and a 3-point missile, as well as baskets by Lawrence and Palmer and a charity toss from DeSpain, to grab a 20-12 intermission lead.
Frei hit a layup and Leavitt canned a free throw for his first points of the game after being shut out and down for the opening 14:40 of the affair.
Tooele seized their biggest lead of the game to open the third period when Holt fired a pass to Lockie, who in turn found an open Boucher for a fast break layup and double digit advantage, 22-12.
The Buffs still led by 10 points with 5:22 remaining in the third period before Snow Canyon attempted to rally back in the waning stages of the frame. Randon Willard fired in a free throw and Jacob Hurst drilled a 3-point shot to ignite the Warriors’ 11-3 barrage. Kaylan Andersen hit a 3-point shot while Leavitt hit two of free throws and opened the final frame with his first basket of the game to slice the Buff lead to just 28-26.
However, Tooele stemmed the Snow Canyon comeback when Castle fired a perfect pass to an open Lawrence for a layup and Lockie canned a free throw. Holt hit Lawrence with a perfect feed for another layup and Tooele relished a 33-27 lead with still 5:04 remaining in the contest.
After a Snow Canyon basket, Boucher and Holt buried two key free throws each to stake the Buffs to a 37-29 cushion. The Warriors made a final run at the cool Tooele squad down the stretch. Frei hit a free throw and then completed a threepoint play to pull Snow Canyon to within 39-35.
Castle canned one of two free throws for the Buffs but Snow Canyon made it a one possession contest when Kaylan Anderson buried a 3-point bomb and closed the gap to 40-38 with 1:03 left in the contest.
Castle hit two more free throws but Frei answered with a layup to pull Snow Canyon to within 42-40 and 52.9 seconds remained in the state game.
But Tooele calmly buried seven of eight free throws in the final 41.2 seconds of the game, including three by Lockie and two each from Palmer and Castle, to sew up the upset triumph.
Tooele 49 – Grants. 40
The Buffs used a strong start and clutch free throw shooting down the stretch to hold off their county neighbors to the west Jan. 12 at Tooele.
The two teams took turns trading 3-point bombs in the early going and the game remained deadlocked at 6-6 with 3:30 left in the opening stanza. Boucher uncorked a pair of 3-point missiles while Derek Erickson and Marcus Hamatake each fired in a trey to force the tie.
Boucher and Holt followed with consecutive steals and fast break lay ups, but the Cowboys answered right back when Butch Logan hit Scott Arbon with a perfect pass and canned a pair of free throws to tie the game at 10-10, seconds into the second period.
However, Tooele countered with a 21-4 run in the ensuing 8:08 to snap the deadlock and spot the Buffs a cozy 31-14 cushion with 6:52 left in the third quarter.
Cody Castle ignited the run with a pair of free throws and Bryton Lawrence buried a 10- foot jumper. Colton Hogan hit a rebound basket, while Erickson hit one of three free throws to close Grantsville to within 16- 11.
Holt then buried the Cowboys under a barrage of shots, reeling off 12 consecutive points by himself with a steal and lay up, a pair of 10-foot jumpers and two long range 3-point missiles that were five-feet beyond the arc to stake Tooele to a 28-14 intermission advantage.
The lone Cowboy points during the Holt assault was a Logan lay up and Hamatake free throw.
To make matters worse for Grantsville, Boucher uncorked a 3-point bomb to open the third quarter scoring and Tooele relished its biggest lead of the game.
The Cowboys attempted to battle back when Erickson fired in a 3-point bomb, Hamatake fired in an eight-foot jumper, Derek Flack canned a free throw and Hamatake added a fast break lay up to cut the deficit to 32-22 with 4:16 left in the stanza.
Erickson concluded the 11-1 flurry with another 3-point missile to close the Cowboys to within 32-25.
But Tooele bounced back with four baskets on four straight possessions to begin an 8-2 run to build back a 40-27 cushion with 38.2 left in the third frame. Hogan and Palmer triggered the pivotal Buff charge with two baskets each to extend the edge.
Grantsville battled back to make a game of it once again. The Cowboys rallied for a 13-3 outburst to pull to within 43-40 with 1:45 still left in the affair.
Erickson and Hamatake buried a free throw each and Brent Mouritsen fired a perfect pass to Dylan Jensen for a lay up to begin the comeback. Erickson found Arbon for a lay up and then buried a 3-point bomb to aid the effort.
Holt fired in his lone basket of the second half on a 10-foot jumper to temporarily stem the assault.
But Erickson put in a rebound basket and Logan tipped in a rebound to cut the Tooele lead to just one shot, 43-40.
Grantsville had a perfect opportunity to tie the game after a Buff miss but the Cowboys misfired on their next two shots while Castle buried all six of his charity tosses in the final 34.4 seconds of the game to seal the deal for the hosts.
Holt and Boucher lit up the scoreboard in the first-half, producing 22 of their combined 27 points for the game in the opening two sessions. Holt led the Buffs in the game with 16 and Boucher poured in 11 to aid the effort. Castle pumped in eight while Hogan and Palmer provided six each.
Erickson paced the Cowboys’ victory bid with a team high 16 and Hamatake chipped in with 11. Logan flipped in six and Arbon netted four for Grantsville.
Tooele Coach Gary Alverson said his team played well, particularly in the opening half of action.
“We played very good defense in the first half that made it tough for them to score,” Alverson stated. “We did a pretty good job of adapting defensively on them. I thought the Holt’s little series of four or five plays just before half-time was big. I took Cody off the bench and his free throw shooting down the wire gave us a boost. Our big players complimented one another really well. I like the way our big guys unselfishly play smart, because if they don’t have a shot, they kick it back out and we run the offense again.
“Josh gave us a big boost offensively early and got us off to a good start,” the coach added. “It was a duplicate from other games, but we’ve learned from those other games. We’ve worked really hard at finishing games and keeping our poise and executing. It was a big win for us. We haven’t done a lot yet because you have to hold home serve and get a couple on the road to be successful in region.”
Lehi 54 – Tooele 51
The Pioneers rallied in the final frame of the game to claim a come-from-behind triumph over the Buffs Jan. 4 in Lehi.
The hosts raced to a slim 15- 12 lead after one quarter, thanks to the sharp shooting of Ben Walker eight minutes into the contest. The Pioneer forward popped the cords for 10 points on five field goals in the opening session and teammate Oliver Jensen poured in five points, hitting a 3-point bomb along the way to spur the early assault.
Lockie buried five points and Taylor Palmer connected for a pair of field goals to aid the Buff effort. Holt fired in a 3-point missile to keep the visitors within striking distance after eight minutes expired.
Tooele outscored Lehi 14-13 in the second stanza to pull to within 28-26 by intermission. Holt ignited the Buff comeback bid with seven points and Josh Boucher recorded three points as each hit a 3-point shot in the period to trigger the charge.
Colton Hogan and Palmer added a basket each to slice into the Lehi lead by the half-time break.
Walker blistered the home cords for 11 of Lehi’s 13 points in the frame to keep the Buffs’ comeback at bay. Matt Gardner chipped in with a field goal.
The Buffs kept the heat on the Pioneers with a 17-11 outburst in the third quarter to take a 43-39 cushion into the fourth period. Lockie caught fire with nine points, including a 3-point bomb. Boucher fired in a pair of 3-point missiles to ignite the Tooele barrage. Hogan contributed a basket to spot THS a slim advantage headed down the stretch.
Gardner allowed the Pioneers to stay within striking distance with four points in the session and Jensen buried a 3-point bomb. Walker and Tyson Nolan contributed two points each to enable Lehi to remain close and make its move in the final frame of the game.
The hosts poured in 10 of 14 free throws in the fourth period to rally in the frame and pull out the non-league contest. Larsen fired in four points, all at the charity stripe. Walker, Jensen and Brady Beck contributed three points each to spearhead the Pioneer comeback. Gardner canned a pair of free throws to aid the effort.
Holt recorded four of the Buffs’ eight points in the pivotal period while Boucher and Bryton Lawrence added two points each.