Bulldogs returning to state
Wheatland will play Lyman on Thursday at noon at the Ford Wyoming Center
TORRINGTON – The Wheatland Bulldogs are returning to the Wyoming High School 3A Boys Basketball State Championship, set to take place at The Ford Wyoming Center and Natrona County High School. This week the boys will open against the Lyman Eagles who finished their season 17-7. That tipoff will be at noon this Thursday, March 9.
Their Cinderella story began on Thursday as the Bulldogs headed into the regional tournament with an 8-16 record. The task at hand was to win two games to get them back to the state tournament after being eliminated in last year’s regionals by Douglas and Thermopolis.
Thursday evening the games were running behind and the Bulldogs had a lot of sitting before getting on the court. Their first opponent was Glenrock and the game turned out to be a dogfight with neither team giving up any ground. At the end of the first quarter, Wheatland and Herders were deadlocked at six points apiece and by halftime Wheatland opened a slim 15-12 advantage which they held through the third quarter. For a brief and shining moment for the Herders, they took a 26-25 lead before JP Anderson sliced through the lane for a two-point basket that got the Bulldogs the lead which they were able to hold with slim two-point margins for the rest of the way. Wheatland went 7-for-7 at the free-throw line to help cement the 38-34 victory.
Anderson was the leading scorer for both teams with 18, Jacob Hyche had eight, Colton Halverson had four, and Bryce Stenson, Aric Suko, Lee Raser and Brock Peasley each had two points apiece.
Friday would present the fifth time the Bulldogs would face the state’s No. 1 Bearcats. Their previous four losses to Douglas included defeats of 24 points, 19 points, 17 points and 41 points. Wheatland also knew that Douglas was picking up steam and running up the score on teams as witnessed by Glenrock who gave up 93 points in their last regular season game.
Coach Mick Cochran had a game plan. One that he said he’d worked on with the team for the last 30 days; 15 minutes of each practice. Just preparation for the next game against Douglas. The last time these two teams faced each other, Douglas won 60-19.
The Bulldogs had come a long distance from last year’s team which boasted a theocratic offense with 3A player of the year, Kade Preuit. Once they found their identity and had to move to more of a team-oriented scheme, the scales were tipped back in their favor.
The opening tip went to Douglas, and they flew down the court and missed their first shot. They fully expected a slowdown offense, but what the Bulldogs put forth was nothing short of genius combined with a little old school version of the Dean Smith four-corner offense. The discipline was neatly handled by Wheatland with the boundaries followed to a “T.” No shots unless they were uncontested. Keep the ball moving quickly and out of the Bearcat’s hands. At times it seemed like Wheatland was playing the part of pesty little brothers playing keep away.
They were standing and passing, then moving and passing all the while Douglas was red-faced and flustered, not having faced this much of a deliberate game. If not for a few errant passes by the Bulldogs the 7-2 first quarter lead may have been even closer. In the next three quarters, Douglas scored 14 in the second, seven in the third and four points in the fourth.
The Bulldogs had held them to their lowest point total for the season with 32 points, and Wheatland only lost by 11 points. It was a lesson in frustration for Douglas, but Cochran commented that perhaps other teams will study the game plan and give Douglas the same treatment prompting the Bearcats to prepare for that kind of offense.
“Perhaps they’ll even thank us one day for showing them this type of offense that is effective against them,” Cochran said.
Quite a difference from the last game between these two teams when Wheatland didn’t score as much, and they gave up twice as many points.
Anderson was again the leading scorer with nine points, Peasley had seven, Raser had three and Suko had two.
With wind in their sails, Wheatland moved to the Saturday games, defeating Moorcroft 48-29 to officially get them back to Casper.
For the game, Anderson was the leading scorer with 14 points, Hyche had 13, Peasley had seven, Suko had four, Halverson had four, Raser had four and Stenson had two. Later that night knowing they punched their ticket, the Bulldogs then jumped out to a 12-0 lead against Torrington and held on for a 41-30 victory securing the third seed. This week the boys will open against the Lyman Eagles who finished their season 17-7. That tipoff will be at noon on Thursday. The Bulldogs are now 11-17 for the year, but five losses were to the state 3A No. 1 team, four losses were to 4A competition – Cheyenne South twice, Riverton and Kelly Walsh – and two teams are in the state 3A tournament – Lovell and Buffalo.
“I am super proud of our team,” Cochran said. “They have grown tremendously and kept to the plan we started in November. Nothing easy about playing the way we play with a lot of discipline and control. We will play Lyman on Thursday, which will be very tough. They are long and physical, Bradshaw, their best player will be a tough match up. We will hit some film and see what we can come up with. It’s a great day to be a Bulldog.”