After weeks of unpredictable outcomes in Region 6 boys basketball, the league continues to surprise right down to the last weeks of the season.
The most pivotal upset of the season took place last Friday, when Cyprus took out region leader Olympus, 76-62. The loss dropped the Titans into a tie with Cottonwood for first place and left some members of the Highland Rams a little stunned. A Titan victory would have eliminated the Pirates from tournament contention and locked up a sixth seed for the Rams.
"First of all, it didn't surprise me that Cyprus beat Olympus," said Rams center Braden Brown. "That just goes to show that you have to come to play every week, because you never know what will happen.
"The last team in the region beats the number one team, the lower seeds beating higher seeds — it's just crazy."
Highland did its part by beating East, 57-48, and that's all the Rams thought they needed in order to gain a spot in the 4A tournament. Turns out, they didn't make it in until Cyprus lost its finale on Tuesday.
Rams players and coaches knew this season would be a learning experience since the team was mostly made up of juniors and sophomores. Still, Highland coach Keith West said they had opportunities to wrap up a playoff spot a long time ago but just didn't get the breaks.
"We had a chance to be in a lot better place than we are now. We lost four games by a total of five points," West said. "It seems like this season, everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong."
The defending 4A champions have had a tough time closing out tight games. Turnovers and mental lapses seem to have been the main culprits in those defeats. Highland gave up a 16-point lead to Murray, eventually losing, 52-51, in overtime. The Rams have also lost fourth-quarter leads at Granger and Cyprus, both ending in one-point losses. Throw in a heartbreaking 44-42 loss at the buzzer to Olympus and you've got Highland's frustrating season in the bag.
Before the team's final home game last Friday, West wanted to send a message to the rest of 4A with a big blowout over East, but it never materialized. The two-time state champion coach was looking for his team to build momentum for a possible tournament run.
"I wanted to win this game by 25 points," West said.
After hearing the news from Cyprus, the coach could only shake his head.
"You know, it's unfortunate," he said. "We thought Olympus would do the job — but, hey, it's a crazy league."
In the playoffs, West likes the mixture of Latu Heimuli and Brown in the post. Both have proved to be good at drawing fouls, and the 6-foot-4 Heimuli has emerged to be one of the team's best defensive players.