Heading into the boys 1A championship game against Panguitch, Piute knew it couldn’t let up for even a second. 

So the Thunderbirds jumped ahead early and never gave up the lead to unseat the defending champion Panguitch 49-42 Saturday night in Richfield. 

“They’re good,” said fourth-year Piute coach Eric Jessen of Panguitch. “They’re well-disciplined and they don’t turn the ball over.”

Heading into Saturday’s game, Piute had been defeated by its Region 20 rival twice during the season and made two key changes heading for the finale.

The first was more emphasis on the boards and defense, while the second was a change in mindset. 

“We rebounded. That was the biggest difference in the first half,” Jessen said, adding how he respects the Panguitch program.

“I told (Panguitch) coach (Curtis) Barney he’s been my Achilles heel my entire coaching career,” Jessen said. “I finally got one.”

As for mindset, that was something the players took upon themselves to change on the bus ride home following their semifinal win over Manila.

“We were talking last night and we said we’re sick of everyone saying we can beat these guys,’’ said Piute’s Raegen Gleave.

“Instead it needed to be, ‘We are going to beat these guys,’ and that’s the mindset we came in with today.”

It seemed to work, as Piute’s Brooks Dalton put the first points on the scoreboard. The lead changed four times after that initial basket, but then Gavin Morgan hit his first two buckets for Piute.

Then Kyle Morgan dropped in his first of four 3-pointers, followed by a fast break to the basket by teammate Jaden Westwood. 

Westwood then connected on a 3-pointer that put the Thunderbirds up 17-5 with 6:08 to go in the first half. 

Panguitch’s Cody Hatch answered back with one of his own, but Piute continued to hold a double-digit lead through the second period, which ended with the score 24-13.

The Thunderbirds maintained their edge through the third stanza, but Panguitch closed the gap to just four points with 1:04 left in the game as Tucker Chappell scored seven of his 15 points in the final eight minutes.

He and Paxton Wolfely, who also had 15 points, both made key shots for Panguitch in the final minutes.

Meanwhile Kyle Morgan, who led all scoring players with 17 points, connected on clutch free throws down the stretch.

He also was able to put in a layup as the final buzzer sounded, cementing Piute’s win.

“We knew we were the underdogs and had nothing to lose,” Gleave said. “We just had to come out and play them hard.

“I just want to thank everyone, especially the fans and the coaches.”

Gleave said hoisting the state trophy over his head was an unreal experience, and a welcome payoff for a season of hard work.

“It was a dream come true,” he said. “We did what we needed to do by sticking to the game plan. If we think we’re the best, we’ll be the best.”

The win was also Piute’s second state championship of the night, as the girls had won their second consecutive title in the game immediately preceding the boys title match. 

“It was just good team chemistry,” Gavin Morgan said. “It’s awesome. It was a good team effort. They killed us three other times this year. Our whole strategy was to box out and get rebounds, and it paid off.”

This marks Piute’s first boys state championship since 1996 and second overall.

Deseret News 1A boys all-tournament team

MVP —Brooks Dalton, Piute

Gavin Morgan, Piute

Kyle Morgan, Piute

Paxton Wolfley, Panguitch

Tucker Chappell, Panguitch