“Si se puede” rang through West Ridge Academy’s gymnasium by a pair of Wendover fans as the players and other fans clapped along during the Region 18 championship game against St. Joseph.
And yes they could. The Wendover Wildcats raced to a 32-18 halftime lead over the St. Joseph Jayhawks and finished off the win at 58-48. The Wildcats won the region championship and clinched the No. 1 seed going into this week’s 1A state tournament in Richfield.
“Our motto is hard work and dedication,” said Wendover coach David Lawson. “Each day, we’re getting better. Each practice, each game we’re finding a way to get better as a team. Right now we’re 100 percent as a team. We’re playing well as a family. That’s how we play. Some teams peak early, but we’re peaking right now.”
Wendover built its lead during the second quarter. After scoring the first two baskets to start the second, Hector Duran forced a turnover and sprinted toward the ball side-by-side with a Jayhawk. The two players dove for the basketball near the baseline, but it was Duran who came up with with it after hitting the hardwood. He spotted sophomore Dallan Murphy racing down the floor and dished the pass over to him while seated on the floor. Murphy finished the fastbreak layup to give Wendover a 20-8 lead — the culmination of a 10-0 run that started in the first quarter.
Murphy’s efforts off the bench showed Wendover’s depth, which has Lawson pleased.
“I can take out one of my stars and bring in a second string guy, and the game doesn’t change,” Lawson said.
Duran made another hustle play in the fourth quarter just as the Jayhawks threatened to cut into Wendover’s lead. With the Wildcats leading 52-41, the Jayhawks had a fastbreak opportunity. Duran sprinted back on defense just as the St. Joseph player went up for a score, and he swatted the ball against the glass. Wendover gained possession for its own fastbreak. James Trujillo went in for a layup and scored. He was fouled on the play to send the Wendover fans into a frenzy with the region championship seemingly in hand.
The championship win against St. Joseph was the third win in three days for Wendover, as it defeated Dugway on Friday and West Desert on Thursday. Wendover defeated West Desert 74-45 at home to earn a spot in the semifinals against Dugway, which defeated tournament host West Ridge on Thursday.
The Wildcats’ defense suffocated the Dugway Mustangs in the first quarter Friday, opening a 16-1 lead. Wendover eventually cruised to a 74-56 win.
Team captain Cesar Contreras set the tone by forcing a Dugway turnover to start the game that was converted into a basket by Trujillo. Landyn Shepherd, Contreras, Trujillo and Duran all scored baskets to build the early lead.
Trujillo got into early foul trouble against Dugway, so the Wildcats turned to Murphy to provide extra minutes off the bench. He delivered, scoring 19 total points, including nine points during the time that Trujillo sat out in foul trouble between the second and third quarters.
Wendover, as the No. 1 seed, now awaits the winner of Pinnacle and Telos for its first round matchup Wednesday at the state tournament in Richfield. Those two schools play against each other Tuesday.
“We want it,” Lawson said. “This is a great opportunity for us to go to state. We haven’t been there for a while. I think we’re going to shock a lot of teams. Wendover is ready to play, and we’re ready to play with the rest of the pack.”
Wendover’s game Wednesday takes place at 5:30 p.m. If it wins that game, it will move on to the quarterfinals Thursday at 5:30 p.m. The state championship game is Saturday at 5 p.m.