Bulldogs surging late in the season
By Ben Lasseter
GUNNISON—“We’re starting to peak at the right time,” said Coach Ben Hill after his team beat two regional opponents by double-digits last week.
Gunnison Valley improved to 8-7 overall and 3-3 in 2A Region 16 play last week. With his full roster healthy just two weeks out from the postseason, the coach said his team is right where it needs to be.
To set the tone for the week, sophomore guard Jon Willden sank a 3-pointer seven seconds into the first quarter on Tuesday at Monticello. This was two weeks after the Buckaroos (7-9, 3-4 in 2A Region 16) won in Gunnison, but last week the Bulldogs took control early and won 56-35.
The week ended with five Bulldog bench players closing out the better part of the fourth quarter against Altamont (8-5, 3-3 region), as the Bulldogs won the game 55-28.
There was no real turning point to speak of in either game, just Gunnison Valley dominance starting at each tipoff.
At Monticello, Willden’s shot sparked a 10-0 run to lead off a 15-8 first quarter. After the second quarter, it was clear the 2-3 zone defensive strategy Monticello ran to slow the Bulldog offense on Friday, Jan. 15 would no longer match up against them.
Hill said his team was “somewhat unprepared” when Monticello played zone defense the first time the teams played, but this time around was “a lot more organized to attack in certain areas.” This resulted in open shots both under the basket (especially for senior Zach Stewart) and behind the 3-point line, as well as advantages for players like seniors Janzen Keisel and Creed Mogle in the paint.
“Our offensive scheme played into that” size advantage, Hill said.
Creed Mogle reasserted himself as a versatile offensive weapon in this game after being sidelined on COVID-19 protocol for a week and a half by doing a bit of everything. He had 14 points, five rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
“He does a lot of special things,” Hill said. “He just creates a lot of shots and is a tough mismatch for teams.”
Willden hit three more 3-pointers en route to 13 points. Keisel, who experienced no problems elevating over defenders, scored ten and grabbed seven rebounds. Sophomore Carter Hill scored 11 points.
Coach Hill said the preparation for Monticello’s zone defense carried into the Altamont game as well.
Gunnison Valley jumped out to a 36-17 lead. On this night, it was senior forward Harley Hill’s turn to get hot early, and he hit five 3-pointers in the game to score 19 total points. Mogle scored 17 points, and Keisel nine.
The Bulldog control only tightened in the second half, with Altamont managing zero offensive rebounds and only 11 points to Gunnison Valley’s 19. Altamont only had one player score in the double-digits with 10 points.
With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Coach Hill emptied the bench by putting seniors Spencer Overly, Bryce Rasmussen and Payton Dyreng and juniors Jack Hansen and Aiden O’Neal in the game together. They continued the strong team performance of ball movement and defense down to the final buzzer.
“This is a good time of year to be executing in all phases,” the coach said. He said he liked for his teams to get hot near playoff time and after working through adversity earlier in the year.
Some examples he offered of this improvement were the uptick in scoring opportunities for Keisel, as well as having established multiple approaches to beating the zone defense.
Tonight, Hill said he expected the coach of North Sevier (4-12, 1-5 regional) to have made adjustments after Gunnison Valley beat the team 61-43 on Wednesday, Jan. 20. But, he noted, even that big win was during one of the weeks without Mogle.
“We may have a couple different things as well, but if they can’t stop our size, we’ll just keep going to it,” Hill said.
On Friday, the Duchesne Eagles (8-8, 5-2 regional) will travel to Gunnison. Three weeks ago, Duchesne fended off a late push by Gunnison to win 43-38.