by Scott Boyle
The Monticello Buckaroo boys basketball team went 2-2 at the 1A state tournament to finish in eighth place in the annual basketball fest.
Victories over the Tintic Miners and the Duchesne Eagles were sandwiched between two losses to Region 20 teams, the Piute Thunderbirds in the tip-off game and the Bryce Valley Mustangs in the final, left the Bucks feeling blue.
But they placed at the state tournament for the sixth time in the last seven years with a 16-11 record over those years.
The Bucks headed in to the tournament with high expectations, but they ran head first into a Piute Thunderbird defense that frustrated the Bucks, culminating in a 31-29 overtime upset loss for the Buckaroos.
The Thunderbirds kept the ball from Buckaroo head scorer Matt Freestone and clamped down on the swift Buckaroo guard trio of Eli Johnson, Tyler Bird and Andrew Torres, making it tough for the Bucks to even get a shot off.
Fortunately, Monticello possesses an excellent defense of its own, and despite scoring only 14 points in the first half, they held the T-Birds to just 14 points, too.
The Bucks never led but tied it at half by preventing the T-Birds from scoring for the last 3:30 of the quarter.
The second half saw more tough defense from both teams, though Piute took a three-point lead, 23-20, after three quarters.
The T-Birds hit a free throw just seconds into the fourth quarter, and then both defenses clamped down. That one point would be the T-Bird’s only point in the quarter, but the Bucks couldn’t capitalize.
Their only baskets in the quarter came on back-to-back steals and layups by Torres and Johnson, and with 3:30 left in the game, the Bucks tied it once again at 24-24. Neither team scored again in regulation, and to overtime they went.
In overtime, Piute scored first and kept the Bucks at bay. Monticello just could not get an open shot and suffered the loss, 31-29.
You don’t win many games when you only score 29, but you don’t lose many either when you hold your opponent to 31.
In the do or die consolation bracket, the Bucks met the Tintic Miners.
The Freestone cousins, Matt and Nolan, dominated the inside. The Buck outside game still struggled, but the Bucks stayed alive, winning 53-38.
Starting slow, the Bucks led after one quarter, 10-9, but Tintic stayed focused and actually took the lead 17-16 with 1:45 left in the first half.
Austin Hart sparked the Bucks, however, by hitting a three followed by a free throw. When Nolan Freestone was fouled on a desperation three at the buzzer, he canned all three free throws to get MHS back up by six, 23-17.
In the third quarter, the Bucks pushed the lead to 11 at 37-26, but the Miners closed the quarter with five straight to get within six at the quarter mark, 37-31.
The Bucks were able to keep the Miners away from paydirt just enough in the fourth quarter to keep the lead.
With 1:10 left and with the Bucks clinging to a 44-36 lead, Nolan Freestone put the game away with two consecutive old fashioned three point plays to close out the game.
Nolan F ended the game with 13 points, while Matt F scored 11. Bird had nine and Andrew Torres seven.
The guards got the shots dropping in the Duchesne game, as Torres drained four three pointers to lead the Bucks to a 59-54 win.
Torres and Bird both ended up with 15 points apiece and Johnson added 12 to pace the victory. Matt Freestone hit double figures too, with 10.
Monticello never trailed in the game, leading after one quarter, 15-13, and at halftime 32-27, though at one point they were up by eleven at 30-19. The lead was 10 after three quarters for Monticello, who beat the Eagles just last week in Monticello.
With 2:36 remaining, the Bucks were up 54-43 when the Eagles made the game interesting by scoring nine straight points to get within two, 54-52, with just 50 seconds left.
Monticello hung tough, though, making five of six free throws in the last 30 seconds to get the win. Matt F, and Johnson were both 2-2 from the foul line in that stretch and Torres was 1-2.
Finally, it was the Bryce Valley Mustangs, whom the Bucks seem to meet every year at the state tournament.
This time, just like the girls, the boys got their last loss of the season to the same team who gave them their first loss of the season way back in December. The Mustangs pulled out a 42-40 win in a game the Buckaroos led all the way until just the 1:30 mark left in the game.
The Bucks led at each quarter, 12-6, 22-14 and 29-26 but watched the Mustangs score eight unanswered points in the last three minutes to steal the win from the Bucks.
Monticello ended the season at 20-5, their fourth 20 win season in a row, winning 132 to just 36 losses in that span.