The Wind River boys were the last, best hope for the Class 2-A West to avoid being swept by their East Region rivals. In the previous seven games played at Casper College on Thursday in both the boys and girls divisions, the East won every one of them. It looked like they might win them all in the early going at Swede Erickson Gym, but the Cougars rallied from a slow state to take a 74-68 win over the Wright Panthers.
Lackluster play in the opening minutes by Wind River saw the Panthers take an 11-2 advantage, but the Cougars are a team known for aggressive, quick scoring offense, and that was the case again through the final minutes of the opening period. Roaring back on drives to the basket, pullup jumpers and a 3-point shot Wind River trailed just 16-14 at the end of the opening period.
The second quarter was a flurry of offense by the Cougars as they double-up Wright’s scoring on the period 24-12.
Wind River relied on the usual cast of characters during the rally. Brayden Leonhardt hit inside on a jump shot and finished the game tied with Wylie Shearer with 18 points each, but his best work came at the free throw line where he was an impressive nine-of-ten on the game.
Shearer was acrobatic, hitting off balance shots and a trey that barely moved the net, but he picked up early fouls and eventually left the game late in the final period with his fifth one.
The magic in the second quarter came in a flurry of points from senior Hunter Walker. Walker drove inside, hit a couple of dipsy-doodle style shots in traffic and added a 3-pointer to the mix.
It was obvious that Wright head coach Pat Neely had scouted the Cougars since he expended a lot of team strategy to slow Shearer, but that usually backfires when you have a bench, and Wind River head coach Justin Walker has a good one.
Mato Amos entered the game and scored on a fiery drive to the hoop. Wambli Romero added a quiet 10 points with stellar step through drives, and another impressive performance at the line, hitting six-of-seven attempts.
After trailing initially the Cougars rolled, eventually taking a 36-24 late in the opening half, but like Congress, they just couldn’t handle success and let the Panthers gradually scratch back into the game.
Wright took their only lead of the second half with 6:01 remaining in the game on a follow shot moving the score to 57-56, but after a spirited timeout, Walker was able to chastise his team back into a good mindset and they steadily pulled away.
Jaycee Herbert tallied nine points, but it was his harassing defense that hampered the Panthers. His quick bursts of speed and fast feet visibly annoyed the Wright guards into making poor decisions.
Wind River faces Pine Bluffs Friday night at 9 pm in semi-final action at the Ford Wyoming Center. In the other semi-final, it’s Tongue River and Big Horn, two schools just minutes apart.
Wind River 14 24 17 19 – 74
Wright 16 12 17 23 – 68
Wind River – Brayden Leonhardt 3 (1) 9-10 18, Hunter Walker 4 (1) 2-4 13, Mato Amos 1 0-0 2, Jaycee Herbert 3 (1) 0-2 9, Wambli Romero 2 6-7 10, Wylie Shearer 5 (2) 2-2 18, Rowdy Shearer 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 (5) 19-25 74
Wright – Jax Neeley 1 (2) 2-2 10, Angel Hernandez 1 3-3 5, Parker Worman 5 3-8 13, Jacob Vazquez 5 (2) 0-0 16, Jorge Reyes 1 0-0 2, LJ Morgan 9 4-6 22. Totals 22 (4) 12-19 68