Bulldogs claim consolation crown at 3A State Basketball

David Peck

For the first time in more than 40 years, the Lovell Bulldogs can proudly display a trophy from the state basketball tournament for Class 3A.
The Bulldogs claimed the rare feat by winning two of three games at the tournament March 7-9 in Casper, capturing the consolation championship.
Lovell opened the tournament Thursday evening with a disappointing performance at the Ford Wyoming Center as the second seeded (West) Bulldogs fell to Wheatland (East third seed) 43-41 in overtime.
The Bulldogs bounced back to stop familiar West foe Pinedale Friday afternoon at Casper College, 52-49, then pummeled the Rawlins Outlaws 66-43 in the consolation championship game on Saturday to earn some state hardware.
Unofficially, the last time the Bulldogs brought home a trophy in what was the equivalent of Class 3A was a third-place finish in Class A in 1982, though they won many trophies in Class 2A over the years.
Though pleased overall, the tournament was somewhat bittersweet for Lovell head coach Shane Durtsche. While he hated losing to Wheatland in a game he felt the Bulldogs should have won, he was pleased with his team winning their final two games and bringing home a trophy.
“Having that disappointment with Wheatland but bouncing back and finishing on a high note, I feel really good about that,” Durtsche said. “I told the kids only three teams finish their season with a win, and we had the opportunity to do that.
“I was extremely pleased with the season in general and the way we were able to bounce back and win two games, though I was very disappointed in the first game.”
Having defeated Wheatland 39-31 in December at a tournament in Lander and a year ago at State, the Lovell Bulldogs might have played with confidence against the Platte County Bulldogs Thursday evening, but instead they played nervous ball for parts of the game, Durtsche said.
Lovell led for much of the game and twice had a six-point lead in the fourth quarter before falling in overtime.
“They played with confidence, and we didn’t,” Durtsche said. “I thought we had the game won, but we had turnovers down the stretch. We played not to lose instead of playing to win, and it got us.”
Wheatland plays a deliberate style of basketball that can take an opponent out of rhythm, and that’s exactly what happened to Lovell Thursday.
“I hate that matchup,” Durtsche said. “It’s difficult to speed them up, they are so disciplined, and they do a good job playing at their pace. We tried to speed them up, and we did a little bit, but if they broke it (the pressure), they would go back into what they do.
“You play a little tight when your possessions are limited. You’re not sure when you’ll get the ball back. It makes the rim get a little smaller.”
Lovell came out strong and built a 10-4 lead after the first quarter as Parker Anderson and Owen Walker each hit two baskets. But then the Bulldogs went cold as Wheatland went on a 10-0 run in the second quarter to lead 14-10 before Walker followed his own miss for two points to break the ice. A three-pointer by Anderson and a free throw by Matthew Newman gave the Big Horn County Bulldogs a 16-14 lead at halftime.
The two teams traded baskets in the third quarter until Lovell finished the period with a 7-3 run to lead 31-26 with eight minutes to play in regulation. Anderson sparked the run with a trey and a move and hook shot.
Cold shooting by both teams left Lovell clinging to a 31-29 lead midway through the fourth quarter before freshman Kaeson Anderson scored on a follow shot and Newman executed a driving bank shot to put Lovell up 35-29.
Two free throws by Parker Anderson following a Wheatland bucket left Lovell up 37-31, but back-to-back treys by Wheatland knotted the score at 37 with 40 seconds left on the clock. Lovell called time out and worked the clock, but Walker missed a jumper at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
Lovell scored first in overtime on a Kaeson Anderson drive, but two free throws by Wheatland following a Lovell turnover tied the score, and Wheatland took the lead when Bryce Stenson went coast to coast following a blocked shot. A clutch shot by Walker tied the score with 40 seconds left, and Stenson missed a trey in the final seconds, but Lovell failed to box out, allowing Brock Peasley to grab the rebound and drop in the winning basket.
 In the end, big shots won the game for Wheatland, who hit six three-pointers in the game, while Lovell hit just two.
“Six for 16 threes is not who I thought they’d be,” Durtsche said. “It seemed like they hit every big shot, and we didn’t. That’s how this game goes. They hit the big ones, and we missed the big ones.
“We were in control of that game, and that made it (the loss) more difficult.”
Parker Anderson led the Bulldogs with 14 points, and Walker added 8 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Newman scored 7 points, Kaeson Anderson, Davin Crosby and Blake Wilson 4 points each.
The Bulldogs stayed alive the following afternoon by defeating Pinedale 52-49 at Casper College Thunderbird Gym.
Parker Anderson came out hot and scored the first 7 points of the game on a pair or treys and a free throw. Pinedale twice cut the margin to two, but Lovell finished the quarter on a personal 8-0 run by Walker including a three-pointer and an old fashioned three-point play (power follow and free throw) as Lovell led 17-7 at the quarter break.
Three minutes into the second quarter, with Lovell up 19-11, Walker suffered a ruptured tendon, an injury Durtsche termed mallet finger, on his shooting hand. The 6-6 sophomore had dominated the game up to that point, scoring 10 points, and the injury was a setback for the Bulldogs as Pinedale outscored Lovell 9-1 down the stretch to close the gap to two points at halftime, 22-20.
The two teams traded baskets in the third quarter, after which Lovell led 32-30. Pinedale came on strong in the fourth quarter to lead 37-34 before a baseline jumper by Walker, with his injured finger splinted to the next finger over, and a three-point play by Parker Anderson put Lovell back on top, 39-37. Pinedale took a 40-39 lead on a three-point play, but Crosby and the Anderson brothers led an 8-0 burst that put Lovell up 47-40 with under a minute to play.
Lovell hit just enough free throws, five of 10, in the final moments to win by three, 52-49.
Walker finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in the game, despite his injury, with 9 points coming in the second half.
“Owen hit a couple of big buckets down the stretch, and they were big moments,” Durtsche noted. “They have a hard time matching up with our inside presence.”
Parker Anderson added 13 points and seven rebounds, Kaeson Anderson 9 points, Crosby 8 points and five rebounds, Kyle Wilson 2 points and Newman 1 point, five rebounds and three assists.
The Bulldogs finally let loose, had fun and played Lovell Bulldog basketball against Rawlins in the consolation championship game Saturday, though it took a while.
“It was nice to play a different team,” Durtsche noted. “I think the last time (playing Rawlins) was six or seven years ago.”
The Outlaws came out hot and took an early 9-0 lead, but after a time out, the Bulldogs launched a 9-0 run of their own on a jumper by Blake Wilson, a flying follow by Walker, a trey by Robert Romero on a kickout from Kyle Wilson and two free throws by Kyle. Rawlins led 11-9 after one.
Lovell edged Rawlins 9-7 in a somewhat sloppy second quarter sending the two teams into the locker room tied 18-18 at intermission.
Durtsche was frustrated by the pace of the game and told his team so at halftime.
“I kept yelling ‘Go!’ and wanted them to look up the floor,” he said. “They did a good job trapping us, but we allowed ourselves to be trapped. We talked at halftime that it was a matter of looking up the floor or at least splitting the trap. We were missing out on so many transition points.
“We also went into our 1-3-1 halfcourt trap, and they never did adjust to it. We did a good job getting deflections and batted balls. That kind of got us going. It really came down to the kids coming out and playing more aggressive. Once we got going it was fun.”
The Bulldogs blazed to 30 points in the third quarter as Parker Anderson scored 11 points, Walker 8, with secret weapon Romero hitting two of his six three-pointers. Lovell led 48-29 after three, then edged Rawlins 18-14 in the fourth to win by 23 points, 66-43.
Parker Anderson finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his final game as a Bulldog, and Romero had 18 points and four steals, hitting six of seven shots from beyond the arc. Walker added
12 points and 10 boards, Blake Wilson 9 points, Kaeson Anderson 5, Kyle Wilson 2 and Newman 1.
“Robert once scored 50 points in a freshman game,” Durtsche said of Romero. “I’ve told him, ‘You can play this game.’ Anyone who can score 50 in an organized basketball game, that’s impressive. The kid’s got talent. It all kind of clicked on Saturday. I’ll tell you, that kid can play.
“Parker had a great game. … And Blake had a strong game. He’s always willing to take the other team’s best player. He’s a leader in that. So it was nice to see him finish with 9.”
Parker Anderson and Blake Wilson are the only two seniors on the Lovell roster.
The Bulldogs finished the season with a 21-8 record.