With three wins in a row to finish the season, the Monticello Buckaroos head to the 2017 1A Boys Basketball State Championships, with high hopes.
Surviving a stretch where they lost soundly to San Juan, Duchesne and Grand, Coach Tony Esplin and the Bucks regrouped to find their mojo and claim the Region 19 basketball crown with resounding wins over Monument Valley, Green River and Ignacio, CO.
The comeback started in Monticello against Monument Valley. With the defense clicking and the offense finding the range, the Bucks were nearly unstoppable.
Talon Black scored a career high 27 and Jake Freestone and Carson Duncan both poured in 21 points, as the Bucks had six players in double figures. They treed the Cougars 107-46, setting a school record for points in a game in the process and wiping the memory clean of those disappointing losses.
The Bucks, leading 47-25 at halftime, outscored the Cougars 37-2 in a devastating third quarter. With 23 points in the fourth quarter, 107 is the new scoring record.
Joining Black, Duncan and Freestone in double figures are Spencer Knudson (12), Ryan Bird (11) and Weston Nebeker (10).
In the final home game, Duncan’s career high 30 points prevailed as the Bucks took on Ignacio and earned a 71-53 win.
The Bucks jumped to a 29-22 lead at halftime. But the Bobcats closed the gap to within four points in the second half before the Bucks pulled away.
Freestone added 13 and Black 10 to help out in the win. Hatch scored eight with two three-pointers.
In the regular season final, Monticello traveled to Green River. Offensive firepower was on display as, for the third straight game, a Buckaroo scored a career high. This time it was Jake Freestone, who poured in 26 points.
Monticello never trailed, leading by 12 at the quarter and 24 at halftime.
Aiding Freestone in the scoring is Duncan with 15 and Black with 14. Nine Bucks found the scoring column in the 86-51 win.
The Bucks head into the state tournament with a 12-9 overall record.
Esplin agrees that the Bucks are playing better and is optimistic about the state tournament.
“After that rough three game stretch, we have been playing our best ball,” he offered. “If the basketball gods are in our favor, and we get a few breaks, we could do ok at state.”
Duncan leads the Bucks, averaging 15.4 points. Freestone adds 11.4 ppg, and leads the Bucks in treys with 23 on the year.
Black scores 9.3 ppg and is a leader of the defense. Hatch has hit 20 treys for the Bucks and scores 7.4.
Knudson comes off the bench to give the Bucks some rebounding and is averaging 5.3 points. Ryan Bird is contributing five a game as point guard.
The Bucks may have a favorable draw in the tournament. Their first round opponent is the victor of a play-in game between Wendover and Wayne. Both teams own victories over Green River, with Wendover winning twice against the Pirates, 58-32 and 69-58.
Wayne also beat Green River by an 81-53 score. Wendover beat Wayne at a 1A Preview game, 63-55, so it is anybody’s game.
Of course, the Buckaroos beat the Pirates twice this season, so no obvious winner here.
“Ya, it looks like we have a pretty good draw,” acknowledged Esplin. “However, as we know, anything can happen when you get to state. A hot team can make a good run once there.
“Wayne and Wendover are both pretty good teams. Wayne has been coming on pretty good as of late. It is nice that they have to worry about each other before they get to us, but that also means that they have broken the ice for state by having already played on the Sevier Valley Center court before us. That could be a little advantage for them.”
In the second round, the Bucks would match-up against either Tabiona or Valley, teams the Bucks beat back in December.
The Bucks won against the Tigers of Tabiona in Monticello, 42-35 and outlasted Valley by 16, 63-47, at the 1A Preview.
Tournament favorite is Panguitch, who has cruised through the season with 23 wins and only one loss. The Bobcats’ average margin of victory is 25 points, and they swamped Valley in the Region 20 championship by 15 points.
The Bucks wouldn’t meet Panguitch until the final but gave the Bobcats their best game all year at the 1A Preview.
The two teams were tied at halftime and Panguitch lead by just two after three quarters before earning a 50-41 win over the Bucks.
Remember Esplin’s serenade, “Anything can happen at state?”