by Scott Boyle
With the advent of the 2016 Leap Year, and the reckoning of February 29 as the once-every-four-years birthday for a puny plateful of patience people, the Monticello Buckaroos boys basketball team heads to the annual 1A state basketball fest in Richfield, UT this week.
However, the Bucks hope to make the state championship leap not once every four years, but once every two years as they head into the tournament ranked number five in 1A, with an hardworking 18-3 record on the season topped by a spotless 8-0 Region 19 record.
Y’all surely remember Monticello capturing the state title two years ago in Richfield with a championship game thriller over Panguitch, 34-31!
Feeling confident but cautious, the Bucks head into the 2016 edition of the 1A tournament after two regular-season-ending home victories over the Duchesne Eagles and the Green River Pirates.
In a close, physical and defensive game, the Bucks defeated Duchesne in Monticello, 47-39. Matt Freestone scored 13 points and Tyler Bird added 11.
Andrew Torres (eight points), Eli Johnson (seven) and Nolan Freestone (six) gave coach Tony Esplin a balanced attack that kept the Bucks in front most of the game.
Duchesne has qualified for the state tournament by virtue of their third place finish in Region 17.
The Bucks sunk the Pirates ship early in their Senior Night contest in Monticello, jumping to a 29-12 lead at halftime and cruising in the second half to a 69-28 win.
The eight Buckaroo seniors all saw significant playing time in the win, with four of them hitting double figures, led by Matt Freestone, 14 points, and Austin Hart, Tyler Bird, and Eli Johnson all scoring 10.
Another senior, Tobin Esplin, scored nine points on three treys in three attempts, while seniors Nolan Freestone (6), Andrew Torres (4), and Daniel Young (2) made sure all the seniors found the scoring column.
One nice moment in the game saw brothers Matt and Jake Freestone and Tyler and Ryan Bird on the court together for probably the first and last time.
Tyler Bird had a great all-around game, grabbing six rebounds, dishing out three assists and making four steals.
Matt Freestone had seven rebounds and four blocks in the game as the Bucks had nine blocks as a team on the night.
The basketball seniors were honored before the game, while at halftime, six senior members of the cheerleading and dance squad were honored. Millie Boyle, Averi Christiansen, Molly Anderson, Sydney Redd, Ashley Ewart, and Monea Mussleman wind up a scintillatingly successful and equally energetic year.
These girls compete nearly all year round, through football, wrestling, and basketball seasons. If you want to see the most furiously intense physical three minutes of any of high school team, just watch the dance team. These gals leapin’ kick it!!
The last time to see these guys and gals perform will be the 1A boys state tournament, which is stacking up to be a smashing affair.
“There are six really good teams in 1A,” argues Buck assistant coach Josh Keyes. “No one team is going to completely outclass the rest.”
In addition to putting the Bucks in that group of six, Keyes is speaking of Panguitch, Diamond Ranch, and Bryce Valley from Region 20, and Rich and Tabiona from Region 17. All but Rich are ranked in the 1A top 5.
And you can’t throw out the Parowan Rams, who surprisingly finished third in the Region 20 tournament, or the Piute Thunderbirds either, the Buck’s likely first round opponent at the state tournament, whom the Bucks defeated way back in early December at the 1A Preview, 72-66, although they trailed at halftime, 30-25.
And none of the six teams “outclassed” the rest during the season either. Two of the Buckaroo’s three loses came to teams in that group, 46-40 to Bryce Valley in the Preview and 43-41 at Tabiona after the Christmas Break.
Panguitch split with both Diamond Ranch and Bryce Valley and beat Rich before beating DR to win the Region 20 tourney. Bryce Valley split with Diamond Ranch and Panguitch and beat Monticello and Tabiona, but lost to Parowan last weekend.
And Rich and Tabiona split their season series as well. Tabiona, in addition to the Rich split, beat Monticello as aforementioned and lost to Bryce Valley.
Can you sort all that out? Nope, of course not, that’s why we play the 1A tournament. Should be a blast.
Monticello looks to have a first round matchup against Piute, the fourth place team in Region 20 after the region tournament, with possible matchups with Rich looming in the quarterfinals and Panguitch in the semis if they get past the Thunderbirds.
In the game back on December 12, Monticello needed a 47-point outburst in the second half against the Thunderbirds to get the win. The Bucks went inside, getting 27 effective points from Matt Freestone and Carson Duncan.
Piute, 13-10 on the season, boasts a very balanced, but young attack, with four starters averaging in double figures.
Two sophomores lead the Thunderbirds, Ryan Westwood, who is averaging 14 points while canning 28 treys this season, and sharpshooter Mason Morgan, scoring at a 12-point clip with 48 buckets from long range.
Parker and Logan Dalton also score 10 points per game, with Dalton hitting 19 treys on the year. The Thunderbirds aren’t tall, L Dalton is 6-2, but they can fill it up from the outside and drive the paint if the defense comes out to stop the three.
The Bucks will counter with experience and depth with their seniors, a strong starting five and a great bench. Matt Freestone averages 16 points and eight rebounds per game. Tyler Bird is scoring nearly 10 points per game and is the Bucks’ second leading rebounder with five per game. Bird has amassed 85 assists on the year, with 66 steals.
Eli Johnson averages 10 points per game and is the Buck’s leading three point shooter, with 31 on the year. He also as 57 assists and 27 steals.
Andrew Torres scores six points per game, has 44 assists and 17 steals on the season, while Nolan Freestone hits at eight points and three rebounds per game plus 28 assists and 17 steals.
Off the bench are the two great three point shooters, Tobin Esplin and Austin Hart, who have 18 and 14 on the season, respectively. Carson Duncan gives the Bucks more scoring off the bench (4ppg), and lots of rebounds (48).
SportsShorts is taking the leap. Calling it, Buckaroos, state champs again in 2016! Go Buckaroos!!