When the dust settled from Friday’s 1A boys’ semifinals, the stage was set with a perennial favorite and a team that’s hitting the championship game for the very first time.
Panguitch advanced after a 47-38 encounter with region rival Valley, while Wendover was able to overcome Manila 50-41 to earn its debut in the title bout.
“This is the first time ever,” said Wendover coach Kyle Murphy. He said the last time a Wendover team even made it to the semifinals was in 1979.
The Wildcats had to get through Friday’s game without one of their marquee players on the court — Jaime Montalvo, who was injured in the previous night’s game against Telos.
“He sprained his ankle and wasn’t feeling comfortable on it,” Murphy said.
However, Montalvo still had a role to play.
“His voice on the sideline helped keep the kids motivated and he helped me as a coach,” Murphy said.
The game started off with Wendover putting up a 6-2 lead, but Manilla caught up.
That’s when Jostyn Gomez, who totaled 20 points throughout the night, scored his first three buckets for Wendover. Teammate Pedro Alvarez hit the team’s only 3-pointer of the night as the buzzer sounded, ending the first quarter with a 15-6 edge.
Manila came back and went on a 12-2 run to take the lead with 4:05 left in the half. Manila’s Tuck Davis scored six of his 14 points in the second stanza to help the Mustangs retain a 26-25 edge at the half.
In the second half, Wendover was able to take back the edge and gain a seven-point advantage, thanks in part to Alvarez.
“Alvarez is amazing, but honestly it was a team effort,” Murphy said.
During the final eight minutes, Wendover only scored one field goal, but shot 11 of 13 from the foul line.
“They like to do a little bit of the patience stuff, so we decided to help them out with it,” Murphy said. Wendover was able to manage the clock and break up the Manila offense enough to capture the win.
“I have 10 seniors,” Murphy said. “These kids are all veteran players. They know the game of basketball and they know the fundamentals, so we just tweak everything else.”
Coming up next for Wendover is the new experience of the title clash, but at least they will see some familiar faces on the court.
“Our very first game was Panguitch and it will be our last game,” Murphy said. “I know we’ve gotten better, and I suspect they have, too. We expect every game to be tough, but I think we’re ready.”
Panguitch coach Clint Barney said he doesn’t expect the championship to be a repeat of the two teams’ first meeting this season, which ended in a 59-35 win for the Bobcats.
Panguitch had to face the obstacle of playing a region foe for the fourth time with Valley.
“It was like trying to run through mud,” Barney said. “When you play a region opponent, there’s not one thing you can run or one they can run that you haven’t seen and the kids don’t know by name. It’s a struggle.”
Scoring for the game reflected the challenge as the first quarter ended in 8-5 in favor of Panguitch.
Panguitch was able to gain some traction in the second stanza, securing a 22-13 advantage in the half, but then things slowed down again in the third.
Following the lead of Gavin Hoyt, who led all scorers with 18 points, Valley went on a late run in the third quarter to close the gap to just five points.
Facing a two-possession game, Panguitch was able to knuckle down to cement the win.
“Once we stretched the lead out in the fourth quarter, we kind of went to our spread and our delay offense,” Barney said. “It was tough going up until then.”
The win was indicative of Panguitch’s style of basketball, with Kyler Bennett scoring 10 points, while Spencer Talbot scored nine and Klyn Fullmer, Paxton Wolfley and Tucker Chappell all contributed eight.
“We have been a team all year that is super balanced,” Barney said. “They all work well together, trust each other and are pretty good friends. I’m happy to see that we’re back and excited to see what tomorrow brings.”