Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The highly ranked San Juan Broncos extremely successful season came to a sudden and dramatic end at Snow College Saturday when they lost the annual 2A play-in game in overtime by two points to the Rowland Hall-St Marks Winged Lions.
Dealing with the hobbling of sophomore center Cameron Shumway, who was slowed by a bad ankle but played gamely nonetheless, the Broncos rode on the shoulders of senior Kyle Johnson and battled magnificently throughout the game, only to succumb 74-72. Johnson’s 35 points were almost enough.
Last year, the highly regarded Broncos lost in similar manner to Parowan, 55-53 in overtime. Parowan went on to place second in the tournament.
Eventual champion Manti suffered their last loss of the season last year to San Juan as well. Look for RHSM to finish second to Manti next week as the 2A tournament continues without the Broncos. Manti’s last loss? San Juan, two weeks ago in Manti.
San Juan should still be playing basketball. What is missing from this narrative is a story of how the Broncos, devastated from their first round loss, nevertheless pick themselves up from their disappointment and battle their way to a consolation championship.
But the 2A play-in format, madness in my opinion, denies the Broncos just such a chance, in a way that no other classification in any high school sport in Utah is forced to deal with, except football.
Denied to the Broncos is a chance to overcome adversity and rise from the ashes, so to speak. Denied is a two loss state tournament format.
As Dave Wilkey, Utah High School Activity Association Executive director, stated in a recent Deseret News article, when he was asked “Do you have a favorite tournament, event, or memory — either as a participant or staff member of the UHSAA?”, he listed the state basketball championship his high school won in 1969.
“That’s because I was on the team and my dad was the coach,” he is quoted as saying. “That is one I will never forget …Personally, it was the marker moment of my life. State championships are really just a symbol of a whole lot of things that precede it.”
Then he said this, “My favorite moments as a staff member are watching all of those trophy moments … Like when Tyler Labrum, Union High School, in his junior year cleaned his ball and left the golf course only to realize he’d cleaned the wrong ball. He reported the mistake, took the penalty and it cost him the state title.
“Then he came back and won the tournament as a senior. Win or lose, when these kids face difficulties and then they turn them in their favor, those are my favorite memories.”
What Wilkey doesn’t seem to realize is the obvious unfairness of a play-in, one-and-done game tournament format.
Unfortunately, all the Broncos will remember are devastating first round losses. Forgotten by most will be the valiant, courageous, and no-quit-in-us-way the Broncos played.
Why does only 2A have such a mockery? Why does only 2A have a “one and done” philosophy? It makes for good theater, I suppose, two days of outstanding basketball at Snow College with the season on the line, but it is patently unfair to single out 2A for a single loss format simply because there isn’t enough time to hold the 2A boys and girls tournaments separately, which happens in every other classification, in every other sport. Just for example, the 1A girls and 1A boys tournaments are two weeks apart.
Recent San Juan baseball and softball teams have at least one baseball state championship, and a couple of second place finishes that would not have occurred had there been a sudden death first round format as in basketball.
Where would the wrestling Buckaroos of Monticello High have been this year without their third and fourth place finishers? After suffering disappointing losses on the mat, they took advantage of a two loss format and came back to win and win again. The Bucks had the team championship wrapped up before the state finals even began.
In 2A basketball, where are the opportunities for this year’s team to overcome a loss? Where are the opportunities for this year’s seniors to “face difficulties and then... turn them in their favor?”
Monticello High School won its only state basketball championship in 1994, in its first year in 2A. What is often forgotten in that remarkable story, is that the year before, in 1993, when the Bucks were in 1A, they entered the 1A tournament as one of the favorites to win the state title, only to be upset in the opening round by Piute, who went on to place second.
The Bucks, under head coach Mark Hugentobler, regrouped and recovered their composure, and came back to win three in a row to capture the consolation championship in a rousing manner, thus setting the stage, I think, for their run to the championship the following year.
Take an example from this past week’s 1A girls championship. Whitehorse High School, after losing to Piute in the quarterfinals, regrouped and won two gripping two point games to finish fifth, leading to this statement in the Deseret News; “Their (Whitehorse’s) ability to work together created some exciting moments, as they came from behind in every game they played — eventually earning fifth place in the 1A State Tournament. When they won their final game against Altamont, on a last-second play, the entire group erupted into cheers and hugs worthy of any title run.”
The Broncos only emotion at this point can only be bitter disappointment.
Now don’t get me wrong. Disappointment is a necessary and important part of the equation, but come on Mr. Wilkey, let’s give every team the opportunity to face difficulty and turn it in their favor. Make the 2A tournament a two loss affair, like nearly every other state tournament in Utah.
The Monticello girls basketball season ended on Tuesday, against the Wayne County Badgers in a 1A state play-in game. The girls gave their all until the end, before succumbing 45-40.
The Badgers, using good inside play, raced to an 11 point half time lead, 27-16 and seemingly had the game in hand. But the Lady Bucks, behind Linda Barton’s 10 second half points, came roaring back.
Coach Elisa Rogers switched to a zone defense with stifled Wayne’s inside game and the Bucks started hitting shots.
By the end of the third quarter, the Bucks had closed the gap to 36-32, outscoring the Badgers 16-9 in the quarter. Slowly picking away at the lead, the Lady Bucks finally closed within one point, 38-37 with 4:30 left.
When Barton banked in a three point shot with 3:50 to go, the Bucks led for the first time, 40-38. But that was the last score for the Lady Bucks as several shots tantalizingly roll off the rim in the last four minutes. Wayne countered with a basket and five foul shots to extend their season and end the Bucks.
For the game, Barton, a senior in her last Buckaroo game, led with 11 points, while fellow seniors Nichole Freestone and Joelyn Palmer made their last game in a Buckaroo uniform a memorable one with 10 points each.
Another senior, Bettina Benally chipped in with five points.
Wayne High School fought their way to a sixth place finish in the state tournament, besting Green River in the consolation final and losing only to 1A champion Rich.
The boys from Monte traveled to Duchesne on Saturday to face the number four ranked Eagles, only to succumb 53-43.
The Eagles shut down the Bucks inside game, allowing Dallin Duncan and Joseph Weatherford only five points each. Daniel Torres, 14, and Connor Frost, 11 paced the Buck scoring.
The Bucks have wrapped up the Region 19 title, but still must play the Green River Pirates on Thursday in Monticello. The way things look now, the Bucks have a first round 1A state tournament game against the winner of Tabiona/Mt. Vernon.