The Gunnison Valley boys’ basketball team had a rollercoaster of a week, from playing a rivalry game scheduled at the last minute to knocking off the top-ranked team in 2A in a fourth quarter comeback.
Starting Tuesday, the Bulldogs (5-4) played three days in a row, losing 76-63 to Manti (8-3) before winning 55-33 against Millard (6-6) and winning again 60-58 against Enterprise (6-5) the following nights.
“It was a wild week just because of the schedule, but it was all worth it. The kids just wanna play, that’s all,” said Gunnison Valley Coach Ben Hill.
Thursday’s game brought an opponent of similar playing style in Enterprise, ranked No. 1 in 2A in Utah. This matchup gave the biggest home crowd of the season thus far a thriller. The UHSAA recently loosened guidelines for game attendance, so each player was allowed four spectators instead of parents only.
Enterprise set the tone early by scoring fundamentally at the rim, but flashy driving buckets by sophomore Jon Willden and a deep three-pointer by senior Creed Mogle nearly kept Gunnison even. The Bulldogs trailed 18-21 after the first quarter.
Defense on both sides tightened in the second quarter, other than an exchange of three-pointers to bring the score to 26-29 Enterprise. The Wolves slowed the home team’s offense with a 2-3 zone defense for one possession, but when a backdoor cut and quick layup by Mogle exposed a weak spot under the goal, they reverted to man defense.
To close the half, Gunnison Valley exploited this indecision and weak spots on the perimeter as a result, hitting two late 3-pointers to take a 36-33 lead.
The third quarter was a frustrating one for the Bulldogs, though they kept the Wolves from taking control with tight hustle-defense. Enterprise led 46-41 entering the fourth quarter.
Harley Hill ended a minutes-long scoring drought at the 7:10 mark and would go on to score five more crucial points for the team in the final quarter. Keisel gave his team and the home crowd a new level of intensity with a steal and fast-break layup to take the lead, 56-54.
A couple minutes of hard defense on both sides ensued. Guards trapped on the ball. Passes to the interior were swatted and kicked.
Gunnison Valley got a defensive stop and took back the ball with 45 seconds to play and the game tied at 58. They dribbled and passed the ball to bring the clock down to 22 seconds and called timeout.
“We knew Creed [Mogle’s] defender wasn’t going to leave him,” Coach Hill said of the designed final play. “We isolated him in the corner and gave Jon [Willden] the option to drive, and if Creed [Mogle’s] defender helps, that’s a wide-open shot.”
Mogle and his 20 points on the night had evidently earned enough respect from his defender to keep him from crashing, which left the paint unoccupied. When Willden took a handoff at the left wing, he already had a step on his defender and streaked to the basket.
As Willden fell away from the basket, the motion of his scoop-shot contorted his upper body to the direction opposite of his momentum. His defender and another jumped to full extension toward his release but were too late. His scoop-shot spun off the backboard down into the net.
The extraordinary combined effort of clock management, ball movement and an elite individual finish left Enterprise with a chance only to heave a last-second shot. The Wolves passed one too many times and did not get a shot off before the buzzer.
The Bulldogs did not outdo the Wolves in all fundamental stat categories, namely turnovers and offensive rebounds, but their 7 of 7 free-throw shooting proved crucial to their win. Enterprise made 8 of 10.
“Especially in games like this, if you’re gonna take the effort to get to the rim, you gotta cash in on points every possession,” Coach Hill said of foul shots.
He said the strong offensive performances from his two primary scorers, Creed Mogle and Harley Hill, enabled rest of the offense to flourish. Keisel had 11, and Willden and senior Zach Stewart each had six.
This week, the Gunnison Valley begins regional play at Duchesne tonight and Friday against Monticello at home.