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High school boys basketball: Region 20 title up for grabs

With the Region 20 boys basketball tournament set to begin this week, there is much talk about who will be the team to rise to the top. Several teams — including Valley, Panguitch, Bryce Valley and Piute — have the athleticism and strength to rise as the region champion.

The action begins Thursday at the home sites of the higher seeded teams, and continues on Friday and Saturday at Canyon View High School in Cedar City.

The Valley Buffaloes, a team that has been in Class 1A rankings for most of the season, currently ranked second, is the first-placed team in the region and will face the eighth-placed Escalante Moquis in the first round. Valley (15-4, 11-3) lost the first game of the season, 50-49, to Beaver before going on an eight-game winning streak, including the first four region games. The Buffaloes then lost two of three at the hands of Bryce Valley and Piute, both on the road. The Mustangs beat the Buffaloes 72-65, and the Thunderbirds won 72-71 in overtime.

Valley was 5-2 half way through region play. It won five in a row after the loss to Piute before losing to Panguitch on the road. The Buffaloes then won a key game on Senior Night, defeating the Piute T-birds 66-57. The win propelled Valley into the top spot for the region tournament.

Valley is led by Kobe Shatto and Coleman Sorensen. Shatto is averaging 18.1 points per game and Sorensen is averaging 11.7 points per game. Behind the play of these two seniors and the rest of the team, the Buffaloes notched several prime victories over some of the most elite teams in 1A, including Piute and Bryce Valley.

The Buffaloes have been an outstanding 8-0 at home this season and look to make it 9-0 with a win over Escalante Thursday night.

The Escalante Moquis (0-18, 0-14) have struggled to stay in games this year. They've fallen behind by double digits after the first quarter in 16 of the 18 games this season. The Moquis have a young team with no seniors and are led by junior RayJay Knight, who is averaging 12.3 points per game. They go into this weekend's region tournament with high hopes.

The Panguitch Bobcats are the second-placed team in the region and will face the seventh-placed Milford Tigers in the first round. Panguitch ( 15-4, 10-4) got off to a sizzling start this season, entering region play 5-0. The Bobcats' perfect record was snapped by the Piute T-birds on the first game of region play. Panguitch followed up the loss to Piute losing three of five, all in region play.

The Bobcats regrouped and have now won eight games in a row, including key wins over Valley, Bryce Valley and Piute. They beat Bryce Valley in Tropic 39-37 on Parker Palmer's 3-pointer at the buzzer. The win helped the Bobcats to the second seed in the region tournament. Panguitch went 7-1 at home this season, including a big 15-point win over top-seeded Valley.

The Bobcats are led by Trey Barney and Dason Houston, who are averaging 18.8 and 13.4 points per game. The defending region champs come into Region 20's first-round game against Milford with two convincing wins over the Tigers.

For the Milford Tigers ( 4-15, 2-12), wins haven't been easy to come by this season. They jumped out to a 1-0 record after beating Pinnacle by eight in early December. Everything went downhill from there as they lost 9-of-10, including starting 0-6 in region play. They won their first region game over the Escalante Moquis in late January, snapping a six-game losing streak. They followed that win with another six-game losing streak before topping the Escalante Moquis in the final game of region play. The Tigers are lead by Jordon Hardy and Ethan Young, who currently average 21.9 and 10.5 points per game respectivley. Hardy is currently the Class 1A leading scorer.

Another first-round contest pits the third-seeded Bryce Valley Mustangs and the sixth-seeded Wayne Badgers. Bryce Valley beat the Badgers twice this season, both single-digit wins. The Mustangs (11-8, 10-4) got off to a slow start, losing 4-of-6. They jumped out to a 5-2 record in region, including key wins over Valley in mid-January and Piute in early February, both at home. After a six-point loss to Panguitch, the Mustangs won four in a row and were tied for the top spot in the region. They then lost two of three, including a heartbreaking two-point loss to Panguitch in the final regular season game, which dropped the Mustangs from the top seed to the third seed.

Bryce Valley is led by Kix Roundy, Landyn Brinkerhoff and Daxtyn Tebbs. Roundy is averaging 15.5 points per game while Brinkerhoff and Tebbs are averaging 14.2 and 13.3 points per game respectively. The Mustangs have their eye on the region championship and look to get one step closer with a win over the Wayne Badgers Thursday night.

The Badgers (8-12, 6-8) got off to a sluggish start losing 6-of-8. They rebounded with a key win over Panguitch in early January. After beating the Bobcats, Wayne won three more in a row, including another key win over Piute. However, the Badgers followed up that four-game winning streak with a four-game losing streak. Wayne split the next four games, helping secure Region 20's sixth-seed.

The Badgers are led by Brigg Blackburn and Jake Stevens, who are averaging 14.8 and 12.1 points per game. Wayne comes into the region tournament with a chance to make some noise as it has beat Panguitch and Piute, plus played close games with Valley, Bryce Valley and Diamond Ranch.

The four-seed and five-seed in this year's tournament belong to the Piute Thunderbirds and the Diamond Ranch Diamondbacks. Piute (13-6, 9-5) got off to a hot start, winning eight of its first nine games as well as starting off 4-0 in region play. The only loss in the T-birds' first nine game was to 1A defending champion Monticello at the 1A preview in early December. Piute was in the Class 1A rankings until late January, where it hit a stumbling block.

Piute's perfect region record came to an end after a five-point loss to the Wayne Badgers in mid-January. The T-birds followed up the loss to the Badgers with another loss to Diamond Ranch on the road. After Piute started 4-0 in region play, it went 5-5 over the last 10 games to fall to the fourth seed.

The T-birds are led by seniors JJ Ramos and Logan Steed. Ramos is averaging 15.5 points per game and Steed is averaging 11 points per game. Piute comes into Thursday's first-round game 9-0 at home. It split the two meetings against Diamond Ranch, losing by 13 at DRA and winning by 17 at home.

The Diamond Ranch Diamondbacks were the surprise team in Region 20 early in region play. The Diamondbacks (9-8, 8-6) are the highest scoring team in the region at 71.6 points per game. After starting region play with a 64-point win over Escalante, DRA lost two in a row to Bryce Valley and Valley before winning five consecutive games, including wins over Piute and Pangutich in the Snake Pit. DRA cracked Class 1A rankings for the first time in school history. However, it then lost 4-of-6 and dropped to the fifth seed in Region 20.

Diamond Ranch is led by Bowen Sykes and Jesse Jaffe, who are averaging 23.4 points per game and 14.4 points per game. However, Sykes went down with a foot injury and the Diamondbacks will have to go into the postseason without him.

This year's Region 20 tournament could be one of the most competitive ones yet. The top three teams automatically go to state, and the four, five six, and seven seeds will have play-in games on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. The action can be seen live on live.ksl.com.

Clint Sorensen graduated from Valley High School in Orderville, Utah. You can contact him by email: uncle.bball21@gmail.com