Somewhere on the Utah Navajo Reservation, a soft wind is blowing, a sheepdog is following the sheep on a warm winter day. A crow is flying and the birds are singing.
But at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield, the number one ranked Whitehorse Raiders (18-3), struck out 59-52 in the first round of the 1A State basketball tournament against Piute (13-5).
The Thunderbirds went on to play for the championship on Saturday, losing to Escalante 48-42. Taking third place was Rich over Wayne, 54-40. Taking fifth place was the Tabiona Tigers, with a 66-62 win over the Panquitch Bobcats.
Back home on a bleak Sunday morning in Montezuma Creek, the tattered “Take State” banner is torn and blowing in the cold winter wind.
The yellow and black balloons, which were proudly blowing in the wind tied to the lightpoles in front of the high school, now hang limply in the air, some have broken off and blown away. And the planned parade, victory dinner with t-shirts and hats were also blown away.
The number one team from Region 19, Whitehorse Raiders, drove in Saturday night and the proud and consoling parents who didn’t make the trip to Richfield were there to pick up their sons.
What happened on Wednesday? One might have been mental preparation. Some were so caught up in bringing home the first ever state title to the school that the players might have envisioned the trophy before it was won. “Don’t hold the trophy until the trophy is handed to you on Saturday afternoon,” advised Assistant Coach Matt Baldwin.
Other factors include Piute’s defense. They played in-your-face man-to-man defense throughout the whole game. The game began with the Raiders taking an 8-0 lead much to the delight of fans and parents. But the Thunderbirds started coming back by playing a deliberate slow game and took a 11-10 lead.
The slow game features passing and passing until someone has an open shot. After they took the lead, the Thunderbirds never looked back and won 59-52, knocking out the number one team of the championship bracket.
Doing a lot of damage for the Thunderbirds were Skyler Steed and Tyson Westwood, who each scored 18 points.
“Our mental collapse and not being use to being behind in a slow down tempo game took the Raiders out of their uptempo style of play. We were shell shocked and we never recovered,” said Coach Baldwin, “Coach Chad Shumway, Coach Rick Grant and I did everything possible to get back into the game. The Raiders could only muster eight points in the second quarter and we trailed 27-18 at halftime.”
The second half was better, as the Raiders outscored the Thunderbirds 34-32, but it was too much to overcome.
Byron Grant scored 17, Trevor Martin 15 and Shawn Dickson with 12. The hopes and dreams of playing for the title evaporated that quickly.
On Thursday, the Raiders paired up against Dugway Mustangs, who had lost 49-34 to Tabiona. The Raiders took out their disappointment against the Mustangs going away by the score, 76-59. Trevor Martin scored 28, Shawn Dickson 22 and Byron Grant added 20. For the Mustangs, Morgan Kartchner had 35 and Zach James had 15.
On Friday against Intermountain Christian, the Raiders found themselves behind at halftime, 29-24. The Raiders began to take apart the slow down tempo enroute to a 67-52 win. For Whitehorse it was Trevor Martin with 25, and Byron Grant with 17.
On Saturday, the Raiders played in the sixth place game against Christian Heritage in what ended up being one of the best games in the tournament.
Both teams seemed to say, “Can you top this,” in a three point contest which went back and forth. When the smoke finally cleared, it was the Raiders coming out on top, 69-63.
The Crusaders were led by four players in double figures. For Whitehorse, it was Trevor Martin with 27, Shawn Dickson with 18 and Byron Grant with 14. Christian Heritage with 11 three pointers and the Raiders had 7.
Although the Raiders didn’t bring home a first place trophy, the season will long be remembered for the thrills, excitement and wonderful memories during the season with regular season. The Raiders end the season with a 21-4 record.
Saying goodbye are five seniors, including Trevor Martin, Byron Grant, Lance Vigil, Viran Silas and Mitch Primeaux. The young guns will be led by Shawn Dickson, Jonathan John, Keliah Holly, Brian Johnson, Joshua John, Kenny Whitehair, Myron Johnson and Josiah Begay.
This team made a strong run at the state championship, but another good Whitehorse team will have to bring home the first state title.