A year ago, Highland High's boys basketball team nearly missed qualifying for the state tounament but managed to earn the final playoff berth from Region Two. The Rams went on to record four consecutive upsets, winning the 4A championship in Cinderella style.
East hopes to be 1992's Highland.The Leopards, who needed a one-point inter-region playoff win over Olympus last Thursday just to make this year's tourney, pulled a major upset during Monday's first round by beating Region Three champion Bingham, 81-69.
Then again, upsets were the rule rather than the exception Monday. Not only were the fifth-ranked Miners beaten, but third-ranked Mountain View was shocked by Davis and Provo beat higher-seeded Bonneville. The only game that went according to plan was Brighton's lopsided victory over Taylorsville in the final game of the day.
But it was East's win that got the mixed-up day rolling. The Leopards' 6-foot-9 center, Nate Gardner, proved to be too much for the under-sized Miners.
"We were just too small," Bingham coach George Sluga said. "Gardner was too big for us and we were getting bumped around inside. We had three kids end up with bloody noses. When you're smaller, I guess you get beat up."
Gardner finished the game with 24 points and 16 rebounds to lead East. He got the Leopards off to a fast start, scoring 10 points in the first quarter to lead them to a 20-17 advantage.
In the second quarter the Miners went to a zone to try to stop Gardner, but then the Leopard guards got hot from outside. Bingham actually went ahead 30-29 with 2:50 remaining in the half on a Barry Fullmer driving layup. Consecutive three-pointers by David Stowell and James McMaster, however, started the Leopards on a 10-0 run, giving them a 39-30 lead at intermission.
East picked up in the second half where they left off, building its lead to as many as 20 points early in the fourth quarter. For the game, the Leopards were five-for-five from three-point range.
"That's a great win for us," East coach Kerry Rupp said. "(Bingham) has such a good tradition and a great program that it means a lot for us to beat them."
Despite going in as a fourth seed against a No. 1 seed, Gardner wasn't surprised by the relatively easy Leopard victory. "We've been playing really well lately," Gardner said. "I thought if we played our game we could beat them. Playing in our region against teams like Alta and Brighton has really helped us and has given us good experience."
McMaster finished with 16 points, while Stowell added 14 and Denver Brunsman 13 for East. Bingham was led by Fullmer's 24 points, while Shane Tingey scored 15.
East will now face Provo in the quarterfinals Wednesday (8:10 p.m.), while Bingham will face Bonneville in the consolation bracket (6:30 p.m.).
In other first-round games Monday:
Davis 70, Mountain View 65
The Darts pulled an upset perhaps even greater than East's. Mountain View, losers of just two games all year and the co-Region Four champs, lost to a team that entered the game with a 10-10 mark.
"We were out to show that we could play defense tonight, and we did that," Davis coach Jay Welk said. "All the papers had us penciled in to go to the left (consolation) side of the bracket, but sometimes that's not such a bad position to be in."
The Darts led by as many as eight points late in the game, but the Bruins trailed by just three and had the ball with 19 seconds remaining. Davis' Tyler Heath stole the ball and was fouled going for a layup with six seconds to play to ice the game, however. Davis was paced by 6-foot-7 David Isaacson, who scored 22 points, mostly in the second half. Travis Homer added 13 points, while Brad Wood netted 11.
Mountain View was led by Ryan Lewis' 15 points, while Eric Gentry added 13. Mountain View will now play Taylorsville in the consolation round Wednesday (2:30 p.m.), while Davis will have a quarterfinal contest against Brighton (4:10).
Brighton 60, Taylorsville 32
The Bengals, the second-ranked team in the state, had little trouble beating the Warriors. Brighton held Taylorsville to just 10 first-half points in taking an 18-point lead at intermission and coasted from there.
Joey Haws, Brighton's 6-foot-9 center, had a fine offensive performance, scoring 19 points, while point guard Mike Enger was three-for-three from three-point range and finished with 11. Alex Fisher, Brighton's leading scorer on the year, struggled to get six points on 2 of 16 from the field. The entire Taylorsville team was only able to shoot 29 percent.
Provo 67, Bonneville 53
The Bulldogs went in as a third seed against the second-seeded Lakers, making their win a mild upset. Provo center Paul Barnes was eight-for-eight from the field to lead Provo with 21 points. As a team the Bulldogs were red hot, making 68 percent of their shots. Jason Valgardson scored 14 points, while Tyler Jackson added 12.
Bonneville was paced by Mike Porter's game-high 27 points, but the Bulldogs were able to hold the 4A's leading scorer, Dave Sivulich, to just 14 points on 5 of 15 from the field.