If you play hard, it will take care of itself. Don’t worry about winning or losing. Just play basketball and good things will happen. – Green River coach Thomas Hughes
RICHFIELD — As Green River coach Thomas Hughes watched a double-digit lead dissolve into a two-point advantage, he offered some advice to his teenage players.
“I just said, ‘Relax and have fun,’ ” Hughes said after Green River earned a spot in Saturday’s 1A championship game with a 60-50 win over fifth-ranked Bryce Valley. “If you play hard, it will take care of itself. Don’t worry about winning or losing. Just play basketball and good things will happen.” And good things did happen.
Even after a series of plays that could have sent the team into a tailspin late in the game, the Pirates stayed composed and hard-nosed in a physical contest.
Hughes said he never doubted his team would find a way to win, even after his third starter fouled out.
“We’ve been here all year, and we’ve just found a way to win it,” he said as his players celebrated with Region 19 co-champ Monticello. “We had to go deep in that game, and I’m just proud of the kids. They had to step up and stay with it. They’ve got a lot of heart this year. These kids deserve it, and I’m proud of them.”
The first quarter set the tone for what turned out to be a bloody battle. Green River lost three starters to fouls, while Bryce Valley lost one. Two players left with bloody noses or facial cuts, while another was sent to the sideline by officials to be checked by a trainer for a concussion.
Hughes said he didn’t expect they’d be able to dominate a team as talented as Bryce Valley for 36 minutes, so he told his players to expect momentum shifts.
“In these big games that happens,” he said. “They’re a good team, and you’re not going to hold them down the whole game. You just got to weather those storms and then fight back.” Senior forward John Mendez, who led the team with 16 points, nine rebounds and five steals, said he knew they’d be OK if everyone kept working hard on the court.
“Good things happen when you work hard,” he said.
Mendez was the third starter to foul out in the game’s final minutes, but he said he had complete faith in the team’s young bench players. “We were confident in our bench,” he said. “We have a deep bench. We knew they could keep it going.”
TJ Hughes added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Chance Pfander finished with 15 points.
The Mustangs were led by Daxtyn Tebbs, who finished with 19 points. The Pirate defense keyed on Kix Roundy and held him to just six points and three rebounds. Landyn Brinkerhoff added eight points and seven rebounds for Bryce Valley.
When Roundy fouled out, the Pirate players all ran over to shake his hand as the impressive forward left the floor.
Pfander, who still had gauze stuffed in one of his nostrils after the team’s celebration and pictures, said it was a bit unnerving to see the starters sent to the bench one by one in the game’s waning minutes.
“I felt like if we kept our cool, we’d keep doing good,” he said.
Added Mendez, “It was tough; it was close. This feels amazing. We haven’t done this in 14 years.”
The Pirates will face top-ranked Rich in the 1A championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday.
"We've got a lot of homework to do," Hughes said of playing Rich. "We'll come out and give it all we've got."
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